Intriguing theatrical history, if a bit too nice for its raucous subject.


Institutional sketch comedy has an illustrious home in Texas, according to this history of Austin’s Esther’s Follies.

Sublett (1960s Austin Gangsters, 2015, etc.) traces Esther’s Follies back to its post–Vietnam War roots as incidental entertainment at a gumbo cafe. It caught the wave of avant-garde yuks pioneered at Chicago’s Second City by haphazardly synthesizing variety vaudeville and sketch as if, in the words of one cast veteran, “Carol Burnett met Sid Caesar and they had a baby and it grew up to be Saturday Night Live on Bourbon Street.” Over the years, Esther’s anything-goes aesthetic has included mime, dramatic readings, mock water ballets—the troupe named itself after Esther Williams, swimming star of Hollywood aquatic extravaganzas—and audience-participation stunts wherein innocents called up from the crowd get propositioned by the cast. In recent decades, features have included headliner Ray Anderson’s comedic magic and illusions act, co-founder Shannon Sedwick’s absurdist turn as country torch-singer Patsy Cline, satirical musical medleys on news and politics, and Esther’s trademark window onto the sidewalk, through which rubbernecking passers-by get incorporated into the stage proceedings. Along the way, Esther’s went from disreputable bohemian hangout to civic monument as it transformed its shabby Sixth Street locale into a fashionable night-life district and became a pillar of Austin’s liberal cultural politics. (Populist Texas Gov. Ann Richards even did guest bits.) Sublett is a genial emcee for this blithe retrospective, providing deft narrative infill for the countless reminiscences by cast members. Aided by giant color photos, the recollections vividly re-create the atmospherics of theater pratfalls, nudity both theatrical and casual, and drag, drag, and more drag. But sometimes Sublett is too genial: There are darker corners—factional infighting, personality clashes, a rancorous walkout by half the cast, early deaths by unnatural causes—that he barely peeks into before ushering readers back to the entertainment. Worse, Sublett’s re-creations of Esther’s alleged comic genius fall flat on the printed page. (Sample satirical number: “You know we have a Bible Belt, and suspenders, too / And every day we ask ourselves, ‘What would Bill O’Reilly do?’ / Hillary’s husband was unfaithful, but she looked the other way / If my man pulled a stunt like that, he’d be talkin’ funny today.”) Still, this is an evocative account of how comedy can become a cultural force.

Intriguing theatrical history, if a bit too nice for its raucous subject.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: 203

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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