STELLA ADLER ON IBSEN, STRINDBERG, AND CHEKHOV by Barry Paris

STELLA ADLER ON IBSEN, STRINDBERG, AND CHEKHOV

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The late acting teacher’s legendary lectures on script interpretation lose something when transposed to the printed page, though they still make a fine introduction to modern drama and the acting style it requires. Like Moscow Art Theatre director Konstantin Stanislavsky, with whom she studied, and like her fellow members of the Group Theatre, which popularized his revolutionary acting technique in America, Adler (1901—92) stresses the actor’s role as servant to the playwright. Ibsen and his successors created a new kind of drama based on middle-class life and speech, she asserts; since what people say isn—t necessarily what they mean, actors in these plays must imagine and convey their characters” inner lives beneath and beyond the text—but always for the purpose of illuminating its themes. Adler’s interpretations stick closely to received wisdom: Ibsen depicts the individual struggling for liberation from society’s conventions; Strindberg portrays men and women in mortal conflict; Chekhov is the poet of nostalgia and loss. Nonetheless, her specific examples of how an actor can particularize these themes in an individual character’s actions—e.g., Nora’s habit of hiding things in A Doll’s House—are fascinating. It’s hard to say what exactly film biographer Paris (Garbo, 1995, etc.) did to edit Adler’s talks, which, judging by internal references, date from the mid-’70s through the mid-’80s. He provides very few footnotes, and he eliminates neither her repetitions nor her actressy asides for the benefit of her audience (—I—ll tell you because I want you to love me—). More rigorous cutting would have better highlighted Alder’s very serious commitment to these plays and to the art of acting. Despite these flaws, Adler is majestic and inspiring as she speaks to us from a bygone age in which the theater was the principal creative home for actors who achieved dignity from their abilities as interpretive artists, not from their celebrity status or their paychecks.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-42442-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999




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