A Life in the Theatre’s themes likewise resonate with Stewart’s experience. It’s about the relationship between a young, talented actor (played by T. R. Knight) and an older, more experienced one, and we see it develop over the course of 90 minutes and 26 scenes. Stewart first played the role in the West End five years ago, as part of a concentrated effort (five Shakespeare plays, Ibsen’s The Master Builder,Waiting for Godot) to revive his London stage career. He says he enjoyed Life so much that, after the London run, he shot off a note to Mamet asking him to keep him in mind if it went to New York. Nine months ago, Mamet got in touch. After overseeing the first rehearsals, he gave Stewart a T-shirt bearing the logo of Yorkshire Gold tea, because he’d seen him drink it constantly.
And speaking of single-minded enthusiasms: Yes, Stewart expects that a percentage of Life’s audience will be fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as it always is. His Trek co-stars and producers, with whom he is still close after nearly 25 years, also will come to see it, as they always do. In the past year, Stewart has gone to two Star Trek conventions in the U.K., and others in Sydney, Melbourne, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. He enjoys the travel and the reunions with colleagues, but he also sees the conventions as a great tool for audience recruitment. “I always spend time talking about the theater that I’ve been doing, encouraging them to come and see me if they can,” he says. He believes his solo adaptation of A Christmas Carol—opened on Broadway in 1991, then remounted in six Decembers—owes its success to buzz built through Star Trek fan clubs, which sold out the first weeks. “I am completely pragmatic,” he says. “Without Next Generation, nobody would have put me alone on a Broadway stage in a suit with a few bits of furniture performing a 150-year-old script.”
Once Life ends, Sir Patrick, who was knighted this past June, will go back to film and television, and to preside over the youth-development program of the Huddersfield Town soccer club in his native West Yorkshire. He’s also occasionally teaching at the University of Huddersfield, where he is chancellor and two years ago became a professor in the drama department, “which, given that I left school at 15, is quite ironic,” he says.
On the corner opposite the rehearsal space, Stewart, as he’s been doing all morning, puts out his arm to block me, then checks both ways before gesturing me across. He has what he describes as a “real phobia of getting knocked down in an American street, lying there, looking at the sky, and being really cross that I wasn’t dying in the U.K.” He threw caution to the wind just once, earlier in the morning, upon seeing two giant inflatable rats on Spring Street. Once he learned they were not ads for exterminators but a labor protest, he jaywalked over to learn more. Two workers handed him a flyer and explained their complaints against Bernini Construction. “Well, I have a long history of being a union man. My father and me,” said Stewart. “So I give you my support.” “Appreciate it,” said one of the workers, then leaned in to get a better look under Stewart’s cap. “Hey, did anyone ever tell you you look like that actor?” “All the time,” said Stewart, gesturing at their shiny bald heads. “You look a lot like him, too.”