The life story of respected actor Eva Le Gallienne (1899-1991) and a case for her deep influence on the American theater....



The life story of respected actor Eva Le Gallienne (1899-1991) and a case for her deep influence on the American theater. Robert A. Schanke beat Sheehy by four years with his Shattered Applause: The Lives of Eva Le Gallienne (not reviewed), but Sheehy (Margo: The Life and Theatre of Margo Jones, not reviewed) bests Schanke by size--her narrative is some 300 pages longer. But in this case, more is not necessarily better. Sheehy, unlike Schanke, enjoyed unlimited access to Le Gallienne's voluminous diaries and correspondence, and offers a sea of details (like the Christmas gifts she bought her friends in 1948) that will make her book valuable to Le Gallienne's fans and to theater students and scholars, but a long and tedious read to just about anyone else. Where Sheehy succeeds admirably (as did Schanke) is in presenting the now relatively forgotten Le Gallienne as one of the most important figures of the 20th-century American theater. Le Gallienne left Broadway at the height of her fame in 1926 to found the Civic Repertory Theatre, America's first nonprofit theater, and the embodiment of her ultimately failed dream to found a national company like those that flourish in Europe. Her lifelong advocacy of a noncommercial theater of quality, accessible to the masses, and her refusal to sacrifice her art for popular success, made her an enormously influential figure within the theater community. Le Gallienne was a woman of fascinating complexity: a great actor who went years without a starring role; a scholar whose translations made Ibsen's plays presentable to American audiences; a woman who drank too much and was often unfaithful to her lesbian lovers. She was, in fact, in many ways quite like her father, the alcoholic poet Richard Lc Gallienne, who abandoned his family when Eva was a baby. Unfortunately, Sheehy's book tends to lose sight of a remarkable woman in a forest of details.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 1996


Page Count: 544

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996