A funny and inspiring behind-the-scenes perspective on the bright lights of Broadway.

STAGES

A THEATER MEMOIR

A Midwestern boy grows up to be the ultimate New York theater insider in this debut memoir.

From his early days in Indiana and Michigan, Poland was fascinated with show business. He started a Judy Garland fan club as a young man in the mid-1950s and even met the legendary star backstage. After a stint in college to appease his parents, the author moved to New York City with a friend, came out as gay, and transitioned from small roles in summer stock to a more lucrative career backstage. Poland began work as both a producer and general manager, booking college tours of the Off Broadway hit The Fantasticks and forming a relationship with New York’s avant-garde Café La MaMa troupe. This work, essential to any professional production, was occasionally glamorous—spending evenings at Studio 54 and rubbing shoulders with theatrical legends like Lucille Lortel and Sam Shepard—but always demanding, requiring late nights of crunching numbers, securing funding, and ensuring each show got the press coverage it deserved. As the edgy theater of the ’60s gave way to the more sanitized Broadway of the early aughts, Poland battled with the changing performance scene and his own alcoholism. He watched friends perish during the AIDS crisis of the ’80s and introduced the scrappy dynamic of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company to a nationwide audience and the Tony Awards by bringing its adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to the Great White Way. Though the author retired in 2007, his memories are fresh and his voice as a writer is vivid, with amusing anecdotes about everyone from Vanessa Redgrave (who had her own unique set of demands while playing Mary in Eugene O’Neill’s classic Long Day’s Journey Into Night) to Hugh Jackman (whose star turn as song-and-dance man Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz took Broadway by storm). But more than a series of dropped names, Poland’s fast-paced memoir offers theater history, an in-depth chronicle of everything from counterculture-driven, low-budget spectacles to today’s star-studded New York stages.

A funny and inspiring behind-the-scenes perspective on the bright lights of Broadway.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73393-450-3

Page Count: 452

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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