A METHOD TO THEIR MADNESS: A History of the Actors Studio by Foster Hirsch

A METHOD TO THEIR MADNESS: A History of the Actors Studio

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A disjointed, chatty, often-gushy overview of the ""most important. . . theatrical organization in the history of American entertainment""--distinguished only by its many, admirably diverse interview-quotes from Studio alumni. Hirsch begins with an uneven, over-simplified section on the theatrical history that foreshadowed the Studio's 1947 founding: Stanislavski's pioneering work with ""psychophysical"" acting techniques; early US responses to the Stanislavski influence, primarily the American Lab Theatre; and a brief chapter on the much-chronicled Group Theatre, frequently lapsing into mere adulation (""All of us who love the theatre are forever in their debt"") and glib asides. (Franchot Tone ""too went the way of all flesh, becoming increasingly alcoholic and having the misfortune to marry Joan Crawford."") Then, however, instead of going on to describe the founding and early history of the Studio, Hirsch offers a potpourri of journalistic paste-ups: first-hand glimpses of a few Studio scene/discussion sessions; excerpts from the Studio's tape-archives, mostly featuring some famous actors (McQueen, Pacino, Shelley Winters) at work on their ""affective memory"" technique; a sketch-portrait of Studio guru/tyrant Lee Strasberg, with pro and con comments from former students; a close-up of the Method itself, with a Stella Adler interview to present an anti-Method, alternative approach (an exaggerated contrast here) to acting lessons. And finally, after a brief rundown on the Studio's administration and financing, there's a survey of ""The Actors Studio on Stage and Film""--from the ill-fated Actors Studio Theatre to the Studio influence in the screen-acting of Brando, Dean, Marilyn Monroe, etc., and the directing of Elia Kazan. Throughout, the candid remarks of Studio alums (some disgruntled) provide some gossip liveliness--as well as some much-needed balance to Hirsch's cheerleading. But, as a history, this is poorly organized and spotty; major Studio figure Bobby Lewis, for instance, receives almost no attention. So serious readers will prefer David Garfield's sober, solid A Player's Place (1980)--while others can find brighter, more immediate backstage tales in the memoirs of Lewis, Frank Corsaro, and others.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1984
Publisher: Norton