THE BOOK SHELF: Novels by Bogosian and Aleichem, Bios of Shakespeare and Miller, Letters of Beckett and More

THE BOOK SHELF: Novels by Bogosian and Aleichem, Bios of Shakespeare and Miller, Letters of Beckett and More Playbill.com's monthly look at theatre-related books pages through biographies of Shakespeare and Arthur Miller, letters of Beckett, novels by Bogosian and Aleichem, a survey of works by Romulus Linney, and much more.
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Arthur Miller
By Christopher Bigsby
Published by: Harvard University Press
Publication Date: May 21, 2009
List price: $35, hardcover; 776 pages; 44 halftones

In his new biography of one of the theatre's most celebrated dramatists, Christopher Bigsby, director of the Arthur Miller Centre at the University of East Anglia, focuses on the first half of the playwright's life when, notes the publisher, Miller "began speaking to America and when those words began changing the country." Drawing on papers made available to him prior to Miller's death in 2005, the author analyzes Miller's professional life — beginning with his poorly received first play The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944) — and his personal life — including his refusal to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He also offers new insights into Miller's rocky marriage to Marilyn Monroe and how that relationship informed many of his subsequent plays. The book pays tribute to a man whose career in theatre and film spanned more than 60 years and whose work is still performed and lauded throughout the world.

 

The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929–1940
Edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Publication Date: February 2009
List price: $50, hardcover; 882 pages; 18 tones Another great literary figure, Samuel Beckett, was also a prolific correspondent, as this new collection, the first of four volumes and the only authorized publication of his letters, attests. Culled from 15,000 extant letters, the collection covers 60 years of Beckett's writing life (from 1929-1989), with this first volume focusing on letters written between 1929 and 1940, a period, the publisher notes, that marked "the gradual emergence of Beckett's unique voice and sensibility." The book includes chronologies, explanatory notes, profiles of correspondents, manuscript descriptions and index.

 

Perforated Heart: A Novel
By Eric Bogosian
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: May 5, 2009
List price: $25, hardcover; 288 pages

In his new novel, Eric Bogosian, author of such plays as the Pulitzer-nominated Talk Radio, suburbia and Drinking in America, employs his personal experiences as part of New York City's underground arts scene in the '70s and '80s to fashion a portrait of a writer's life — from brash, club-hopping youth to literary legend. The narrative shifts from the present to the past and back again in this character study that the publisher notes, underscores "the psychological cost of ambition and fame" while capturing "the self-flagellating temperament of the artistic ego."

 

 

Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare
By Jonathan Bate
Published by: Random House
Publication Date: April 14, 2009
List price: $35, hardcover; 496 pages; illustrations throughout

Shakespearean scholar Jonathan Bate has produced a novel twist on the biography — a work of scholarship that, according to the publisher, "shifts from past to present, reality to the imagination, to reveal how this artist came to be." Using the Bard's own words — his list of the seven ages of Man from As You Like It — Bate explores important events in Shakespeare's life and connects them to the time in which he lived and to his work. It begins with Shakespeare the infant, born into a world of plague and disease, and journeys through the other stages of life — schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon and ultimately oblivion — traces of all of which, Bate deduces, can be found in the characters that inhabit Shakespeare's plays.

Wandering Stars
By Sholem Aleichem
Published by: Viking
Publication Date: Feb. 9, 2009
List price: $29.95, hardcover; 496 pages

Feb. 18, 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sholem Aleichem, the great Yiddish humorist, as well as the 100th anniversary of the publication of "Wandering Stars," his acclaimed novel set in the world of the Yiddish theatre. Translated from Yiddish by Aliza Shevrin and including a foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, "Wandering Stars" is a love story that originates in a Russian shtetl at the end of the 19th century. Enchanted by a traveling Yiddish acting troupe Reisel, the daughter of a poor cantor, and Leibel, son of a rich man, run off to join the company. They are separated but go on to become famous, Reisel as concert star Rosa Spivak and Leibel as theatre great Leo Rafalesko. They are kept apart by circumstance until their respective tours lead them to New York. The book, writes Kushner in his foreword, "is a great novel about theatre, an invaluable account of the Jewish theatre of the diaspora, but it's equally a brilliant exploration of liberation's outrageous, tumultuous motion through human society and the human soul."

 

The Producer's Perspective
By Ken Davenport
Published by: Davenport Theatrical Enterprises, Inc.
Publication Date: Now available
List price: $17.75, paperback; 277 pages

If, like The Producers' Leo Bloom, you've always harbored hopes to be a theatrical producer, Ken Davenport tells you how it's done — or at least how he does it — in his new book, available in paperback or download from www.lulu.com. Davenport, producer of such Broadway and Off-Broadway shows as Blithe Spirit (currently at the Shubert Theatre); Will Ferrell's You're Welcome, America; Speed-the-Plow; 13, Altar Boyz and My First Time, has been featured as one of "Crain's Magazine's" "40 Under 40 and "Manhattan Magazine" has called him called one of Manhattan's "Next Generation of Cultural Thinkers." His book is a collection of entries from his widely read blog of the same name (www.theproducersperspective.com). Subtitled "A Theatre producer in NYC gives his opinion on everything related to Broadway and beyond" both blog and book share Davenport's wealth of experience and secrets to success.  

Romulus Linney: Maverick of the American Theater
By John Fleming
Published by: Smith & Kraus
Publication Date: April 2009
List price: $19.95, paperback; 352 pages

John Fleming, chair of the department of theatre and dance at Texas State University and producer of Romulus Linney's adaptation of Going After Cacciato, has written the first book-length study of the life and career of the playwright, author of such other works as Sorrows of Frederick, Sand Mountain, Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks and A Lesson Before Dying. Fleming provides critical insight into how Linney's life has informed his plays (a total of 40 plays are studied for their plot, character and thematic content), utilizing extensive interviews and a close examination of Linney's personal files. The book contains an annotated chronology of Linney's career as well as three photo sections, covering Linney's personal life and the production of his plays. According to publisher notes, the author's meticulous research prompted the book's subject to declare: "Fleming knows more about my career than I do."

Plays of Note:

 

 

  • New Playwrights: The Best Plays of 2008
    Edited and with a Foreword by Lawrence Harbison
    Published by: Smith & Kraus
    Publication Date: April 2009
    List price: $19.95, paperback; 384 pages Lawrence Harbison has rounded up works of comedy, drama, fantasy and mystery by some of American's most exciting new playwrights in the 11th volume of this series. The plays and playwrights: The Butcher of Baraboo, Marisa Wegrzyn's dark comedy about nefarious doings in a small town; Election Day, Josh Tobiessen's comedy about small-town politics; Harvest, David Wright Crawford's touching drama about a Texas farmer forced to choose between his farm and a wife fed up with their poor existence; Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, Jennifer Haley's inventive work about a group of video-game-obsessed teens who cross the line between fantasy and reality; 100 Saints You Should Know, Kate Fodor's sensitive look at a single mother searching for her faith and a Catholic priest who has lost his; Spain, Jim Knable's comic fantasy about a woman, her unfaithful husband and a passion for all things Spanish; Unconditional, Brett C. Leonard's hard-hitting play that balances three separate stories, the central one of which focuses on a man driven to take desperate measures when he is laid off after years on the job.

     

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  • Shipwrecked! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by himself)
    By Donald Margulies
    Published by: Theatre Communications Group
    Publication Date: April 2009
    List price: $13.95, paperback; 136 pages Donald Margulies' Shipwrecked! was commissioned by South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, CA, where it had its world premiere on Sept. 23, 2007. It received subsequent premieres at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre and Los Angeles' Geffen Playhouse before arriving Off-Broadway in a Primary Stages production on Jan. 27, 2009. This imaginative play was inspired by the equally creative late 19th century publishing sensation, "The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont," in which De Rougemont captivated readers with tales of his adventures in the South Pacific. Filled with accounts of buried treasure, a confrontation with a giant killer octopus and a run-in with cannibals, these adventures were thought to be legitimate. Ultimately, though, they were revealed to be fictional — a literary hoax worthy of today's front pages. As reported in Playbill.com, according to New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, where Shipwrecked! premiered on Feb. 13, 2008, the play "challenges audiences to think about the delicate dance between truth and fiction — are the quiet lives we lead enough to make a mark on the world? How far do we go to be remembered and loved?" The play foregoes elaborate spectacle — featuring only three actors and minimal scenery — to, as Margulies says in the published notes, "get back to what theatre does best: enlighten, amuse, transport, make you forget, or force you to remember."

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    Judy Samelson gathers information on theatre-related books, including published plays, for Playbill.com's monthly books column. Write her at jsamelson@playbill.com.