A LIFE IN A WOODEN O: Memoirs of the Theatre by Ben Iden Payne

A LIFE IN A WOODEN O: Memoirs of the Theatre

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Two books in one, written by the late B. Iden Payne as he entered his nineties and his eighth decade of devotion to the stage. First comes a beguilingly modest, quietly hilarious memoir of Payne's first twenty years in the theater--apprentice actor with the Bensonians and the blindly confident Madame Gratienne (""I will underdress the part, and I will wear a moustache so that they will not know me!""), stage director for Yeats at the Abbey, progenitor of the English Rep system and champion of Shaw, Ibsen, and Galsworthy at the Manchester Gaiety, and sudden Broadway success. Payne's ""almost continuous frustration"" with the typecasting and slovenly standards of the pre-O'Neill commercial theater drove him to drama departments at Carnegie Tech and the Univ. of Texas and to Stratford-upon-Avon, where he developed--over 50 years--the principles of ""modified Elizabethan staging"" and ""melodic line of scene development"" that he had first discovered when collaborating with the eccentric William Poel. Thus, the second book here is the chronicle of Payne's Shakespeare productions, especially Hamlet, Measure for Measure, The Tempest, Macbeth, Richard II, Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado, involving few big names--just big ideas. The editors have footnoted Payne's highly discreet anecdotes to increase the number of droppable names, but they don't succeed in sullying the selfless, idealistic high spirits that inform both halves of this gently forceful credo.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1977
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press