A well-written account of Alexander’s 1993–97 term as head of the National Endowment of the Arts, smoothly interwoven with tales of her stage and screen life.
Until the NEA appointment, Alexander’s only bureaucratic experience was as a politically active citizen (although she was urged to run for public office after portraying Eleanor Roosevelt on a television program). Her commitment to the NEA was bolstered by her role in The Great White Hope, which earned her a Tony Award and an Oscar nomination and was developed with an NEA grant. The organizing principle of her 15 theatrical chapter titles, divided into two acts and bookended by a prologue and epilogue, smartly links Alexander’s professional world onstage with her stint in the theater of politics. “The Audition,” “The Rehearsal,” and “Curtain Up” detail the intricate voyage through nomination and confirmation. On the heels of the swearing-in comes the process of learning the ropes and expanding her list of useful acquaintances. The many profiles of movers and shakers, for and against the NEA, reveal a dry authorial wit and add human interest. No sooner did this Washington outsider learn to deal with Beltway insiders than she was confronted with the Gingrich Congress, which turned her plan to increase NEA funding and visibility into a battle of containment—if not extinction. The agency survived, but a personal tragedy and mounting disenchantment with the time-wasting politicization of the legislative process prompted Alexander to resign. She compares the frustrating ditherings of bureaucracy to the results-oriented production of a play (which benefits from a more collaborative atmosphere for settling differences).
The author’s intelligence and personable quality, combined with her large cast of political and show-business celebrities, make for an entertaining and informative discussion of important arts issues. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)