BEAUTIFUL CHAOS by Carey Perloff


A Life in the Theater
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A memoir and artistic manifesto regarding the author’s love of highbrow, "meaningful" classical theater.

Perloff's mandate as the artistic director of the American Conservatory Theater, a classical, nonprofit theater company, is "to nurture and cultivate that which may have lasting value”—unlike popular culture, which she regards as only momentarily relevant. The author admits to being "a world-class talker” with the ability to “set a trail of words in motion and watch them quickly find their way into complete sentences, paragraphs, speeches,” which is a major flaw of the book; she writes indulgently and expansively and name-drops the many actors with whom she has worked. What is clear are Perloff's twin passions: creative development through artistic collaboration and the difficult and unique challenges women and mothers face in the theater: "how hard it is for us to be resilient in the face of a doubting culture that rarely believes we have it in us to succeed at the highest levels." The author argues vigorously for the relevance of classical theater, an art form that, contrary to mainstream productions, "managed to be at the same time metaphoric and immediate, poetic and specific, linguistic and physical, political without being didactic.” Perloff disdains even classic American drama for its "realism" and confessional and earnest qualities, and she declares that theater "exists only in relationship to audience.” Many of the author’s arguments are intellectually stimulating but likely only for a select few, and this snobbery will likely put off fans of commercial theater. When she rhapsodizes about her experience reading "the famous central Chorus of Aristophanes' The Frogs” in Greek class while studying at Stanford, lay readers may well close the cover and exit scene.

A book for those who already agree with or will warm to the author’s high-minded, often elitist stance.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-931404-14-3
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: City Lights
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2015


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