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TRYOUT by George Abbott



Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1979
Publisher: Playboy--dist. by Simon & Schuster

For the first 80 pages or so of this debut novel, the venerable Mr. Abbott sticks to what he knows better than anybody--show-biz--and the result is an unassuming but engaging bit of backstage drama: it's 1944, and neophyte actor Chuck Cornell (a man with a secret) lucks into a role in an out-of-town tour, a role he loses when he rejects the advances of the star's wife--a vengeful woman scorned. All this is conventionally plotted, but the telling is genial, and the rehearsal/performance milieu is gritty enough to carry us along. Then, however, Chuck's secret is revealed: he's really Brooks Blakeley, the despised runaway son of a loathsome millionaire. And so the action shifts to the Blakeley compound in Palm Beach, where the novel bogs down in an all-too-familiar stew of Rich-People intrigues: Chuck's father is ruthlessly trying to gain control of the family business; Chuck's stepmother is having her first affair; Chuck has conflicting flings with two gorgeous gals; and Chuck's eccentric, much-divorced aunt is married off by her cruel brother to a homosexual--who breaks her heart by running off after the wedding with an actor chum of Chuck's. (These secret lovers have gooey love scenes that Mr. Abbott would surely never be willing to direct: ""Ned, Ned--Oh, my love, why did you have to come here! Why did we have to meet?"" etc.) And meanwhile the theater milieu--and, for that matter, the 1940s setting--is all but forgotten, though Chuck (whose character is ludicrously inconsistent) does finally break free of his family and gets a big Broadway show off the ground. Abbott has nothing fresh to bring to the sleazy commercial formulas he gets tangled up with here; but he does have some basic storytelling knack. Let's hope that he tries another novel, sticks with what he knows, and really comes up with ""a wonderful novel of the Broadway theater""--which is how this disappointingly untheatrical debut is misleadingly billed.