by John Lahr ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 16, 1996
A thoughtful, enjoyable collection from critic and theatrical biographer Lahr (Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilisation, 1992, etc.). Most of these lucid reviews/essays originally appeared in the New Yorker, which employs Lahr as its theater critic. Rather than simply evaluate a production, the author prefers to incorporate interviews with those who created it--playwright, actors, director--in order to give readers a sense of the artists' goals as well as Lahr's opinion on whether or not they achieved them. The results are mini-histories of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, George C. Wolfe's Jelly's Last Jam, and other important contemporary works, as well as cogent biographies of comedians Bill Hicks and Peter Cook (the latter receives a notably moving, determinedly unsentimental tribute). Except in discussing Stephen Sondheim, whom he feels has led the American musical into a dead end, Lahr is almost unfailingly generous in his assessments: Even when he dislikes an individual production--Steppenwolf's Awake and Sing! or the Royal National Theatre's Sweet Bird of Youth--he musters his knowledge of theatrical and literary history to remind us why Clifford Odets and Tennessee Williams are key figures in modern theater. Like all good critics, Lahr focuses primarily on the play's text rather than the actors' performances; he considers theater an arena for ideas, not a showcase for celebrities. Unlike Robert Brustein (his only peer in current theater criticism), Lahr is seldom stridently polemical, though he does have a staunchly liberal political point of view. More openly stated is his artistic credo: that theater at its best is a collective art that binds the artists and the audience together into a community. In Lahr's view, individualism has its limits, both socially and creatively, even though he examines and pays tribute to individual achievements. Filled with love for the theater, ably conveyed to the reader.
Pub Date: Feb. 16, 1996
Page Count: 368
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1995
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