A wonderful book that clearly and powerfully shows that Papp’s own story was the most enduring drama he ever produced.

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JOE PAPP, THE PUBLIC, AND THE GREATEST THEATER STORY EVER TOLD

A poignant pastiche of interviews and “soliloquies” by many principals and walk-ons tells the story of New York’s most powerful theater impresario.

Los Angeles Times film critic and NPR contributor Turan (Film Criticism/Univ. of Southern California) originally assembled the book 23 years ago with the cooperation of producer and director Joseph Papp (1921–1991), but when the temperamental showman read the result, he pulled the plug. Turan later approached Papp’s widow, who greenlighted the project. At first glance, the text is off-putting: snippets of observations, comments and memories from decades ago from a huge cast, some of whom are no longer living. But the cumulative effect is riveting. After dealing briefly with Papp’s parentage and struggling Brooklyn boyhood, the narrative follows him into the Navy, then out to Hollywood, where he participated in the Actors’ Laboratory. He moved back East to work for CBS-TV and begin his career producing and directing plays. His crowning glories, of course, were the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater. Papp comes across as a highly persuasive, indefatigable fundraiser and a terrific (if not always enduring) champion of actors and writers, especially playwright David Rabe. The rising, then falling arc of that friendship and professional association is a highlight of the narrative. As time moves on, chapters focus on specific productions. Those involved with A Chorus Line tell of its genesis and surpassing success. There is a sad story about Papp’s relationship with Sam Shepard (they fell out over True West), many inspiring ones (about The Pirates of Penzance with Linda Ronstadt and The Mystery of Edwin Drood), tales of failure (Papp’s tenure at Lincoln Center) and glorious serendipity (Two Gentlemen of Verona, That Championship Season).

A wonderful book that clearly and powerfully shows that Papp’s own story was the most enduring drama he ever produced.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-7679-3168-7

Page Count: 648

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2009

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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