REAL LIFE DRAMA: The Group Theatre and America, 1931-1940 by Wendy Smith

REAL LIFE DRAMA: The Group Theatre and America, 1931-1940

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This may be all right for you people. . .but you see, I'm going to become a star."" On the eve of the Group Theatre's birth in 1930, that's how a very young Katharine Hepburn summarily dismissed Harold Clurman's vision for a new American drama--based on the primacy of the theatrical ensemble over the individual participant, on art's social responsibility, and above all, on a kind of honest acting that would eventually be codified into the Method. But the truth about the Group Theatre is immensely more complicated than Hepburn saw it, and up until this history by a Publishers Weekly free-lance editor, difficult to uncover (largely because the Group's history has been told only subjectively, by former members). Smith's strikingly cogent chronicle of the Group Theatre begins by introducing readers to the organization's stars--Clurman, a lowly playreader for the Theatre Guild turned ""evangelist"" for the new theater; Lee Strasberg, the magnetic acting teacher; the stormily talented Stella Adler; and loopy Clifford Odets, whose Waiting for Lefty would put the Group on the map. Smith paints a vivid picture of the Group's highs, especially its summer stints, and of its lows after an unrewarding first Broadway season and the desertion of many members to Hollywood in 1937. Throughout the theater's ten-year history, internecine warfare flared--between Adler and Clurman, working and ""resting"" actors, and Strasberg and everyone--and Smith includes just enough of the personal aspects of these battles to add spice to her history. Nor does she shy away from sticky issues, like Communism and the Group, HUAC name-naming, Clurman and Strasberg's shortsightedness about plays, and how, despite its rhetoric, the Group occasionally sold out to the commercial theater. But in the end, she embraces the crazy, tortured little Group for both what it attempted and the influential acting technique it spawned. An excellent, balanced, impressively researched study, destined to last.

Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 1990
Publisher: Knopf