THE LIVING THEATRE by John Tytell

THE LIVING THEATRE

Art, Exile, and Outrage
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A florid history of the 1960s' best-known radical theater. Tytell ((English/Queens College; Ezra Pound, 1987, etc.) knows his subject matter well, although he often lacks the perspective to give a balanced picture of this innovative theatrical troupe and its quirky founders, painter-turned-actor/director Julian Beck and his wife, actress/director Judith Malina. The couple met in the late 1940s (a meeting Tytell calls ``cataclysmic'' for the thunderstruck 17-year-old Malina) and discovered that they shared a dream of establishing a ``poet's theatre.'' Existing on the peripheries of the avant-garde movement, the duo crossed paths with many seminal figures, from painters Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock to composers John Cage and Alan Hovhaness, and writers Allen Ginsberg, James Agee (who was briefly involved with Malina), and Tennessee Williams. The cast of characters played a seemingly endless game of musical beds, and the head spins in reading Tytell's lengthy descriptions of everyone sleeping in various combinations with everyone else. The company's first success came in the late '50s with a realistic depiction of heroin addicts waiting for their supplier (The Connection), followed by a portrait of the regimented life of a Marine (The Brig). Beck, Malina, and their followers spent the mid-'60s as tax exiles in Europe, returning to the US in 1968 with their semi-improvised play, Paradise Now, featuring a famous ``group grope'' scene enacting sexual freedom in all its variety. The Living Theatre continued its peripatetic existence through the '70s and '80s, performing on the streets and in theaters from American college campuses to the slums of Brazil. Beck died of colon cancer in 1985, but the company continued to perform on New York's Lower East Side, although by then they were marginal to the life of the theater. Throughout, Tytell uses an acolyte's overheated language to uncritically celebrate a long-gone era in the arts. (Photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8021-1558-6
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1994




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