GURU by Jeff Griggs

GURU

My Days with Del Close
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A wild and fascinating ride with actor Griggs as he chauffeurs improvisational guru Del Close around Chicago during the last two years of Close’s life.

In exchange for free lessons at the ImprovOlympic Training Center, the author was drafted to take artistic director Close on his weekly errands. Griggs was a solid wiseacre, so the Center figured he was up to tangling with an intimidating man who could easily turn actors to onstage jelly with his fiery critiques. But Close was far from a regal figure; he had more weaknesses, quirks, and blemishes than his most talented pupils, who included nearly the entire early Saturday Night Live group. Griggs’s timed and textured prose is anything but improvisational, and each of the short chapters here is a success. They range from grim to hilarious; some are heavy with technique, some simply chronicle a day in the life. Even the chapter that unpromisingly begins, “A new Ikea store had opened, and Del wanted to see it,” turns out to be a doozy. By the time Griggs met Close, the improv legend was plagued by emphysema, and a lifetime of substance abuse had aged him well beyond his 63 years. (The author doesn’t linger over Close’s past, but it gets sufficient airtime.) Yet his mind sparkled, especially when he was expounding on improvisational theater. “Wear your character like a thin veil,” he told Griggs. “Treat your scene partners like artists and poets.” For Close, the best laughter came as a release of energy when “two previously incompatible or dissimilar ideas suddenly form into a new piece of understanding.” Playing the Lord of Misrule in public, he drummed on Griggs like a vibraphone; describing the author as “my little retarded friend” to a bemused Golden Nugget waitress was just the beginning. The errands provided Close with an excuse to travel down Memory Lane, through improvisational theory and into a crackling friendship with his driver.

Sensitive, discerning, and deeply affectionate without ever slopping over into hagiography.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 1-56663-614-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2005