THE BOOK SHELF: Plays By Jez Butterworth, Enda Walsh, Eugene O'Neill, Plus a Guide to Spring Awakening

By Steven Suskin
10 Apr 2012

Cover art for "Stunning and Other Plays"
Cover art for "Stunning and Other Plays"

In this month's stack of books is a memoir about Cary Grant, a slew of new plays (and one very old one) and a slim tome that decodes the lyrics of the Tony-winning Spring Awakening, plus more.

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Spring cleaning has arrived, which is not altogether restful if you wish to keep abreast of all these new shows that see fit to come along at torrential pace. This is a good time, though, to clear the shelf of books that have been piling up. With an apology. With only one book column a month, it is hard to cover more than three or four at a clip — which leaves quite a few items unhappily overlooked. Just because I overlook them, doesn't mean that you should. Thus I herewith present ten of these books. If something sounds interesting to you, do pick it up and give it a try.

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Much of what we have are plays, many from celebrated authors. Penelope [TCG] comes from Enda Walsh, the innovative Irish writer who is just now thrilling Broadway with his libretto for Once. (Read about Once in the Playbill Vault.) Penelope is set beside a swimming pool, with lounge chairs and a deluxe barbecue; the title character, though, is the gal Ulysses left behind when he went to Troy in pursuit of Helen. Stunning and Other Plays [TCG] comes from David Adjmi, the Syrian-Jewish-American playwright who has been attracting attention of late. Stunning was presented at the Duke in 2009 with Charlayne Woodard, an early offering of LCT3 (which is the new arm of Lincoln Center Theater). Elective Infinities, one of the two other titles included, played a limited and unconventional run last December in a Fifth Avenue townhouse, starring Zoe Caldwell.

Cover art for "A Civil War Christmas"

A Civil War Christmas [TCG] is by Paula Vogel, Pulitzer-winner for How I Learned to Drive. The musical pageant/play premiered at the Long Wharf in New Haven in 2008 under Tina Landau's direction, and was subsequently produced in 2009 at the Huntington in Boston. The Color of Desire/Hurricane [TCG] are two plays by Nilo Cruz, Pulitzer-winner for Anna in the Tropics. Mojo and Other Plays [TCG] includes six early plays by Jez Butterworth, who lately created a stir here and in London with Jerusalem. (Opening the book at random, I found that the fourth line of Mojo is "My piss is black.")

Most intriguing of the plays is Exorcism [Yale], a lost play in one act by none other than Eugene O'Neill. A sharply autobiographical drama about the author's early suicide attempt, Exorcism was produced briefly at the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village in 1920. The author quickly withdrew it and destroyed the script (he thought). But even in those pre-Internet days, a copy got out; O'Neill's wife at the time squirreled it away. Long after the playwright left her for the famous Carlotta, she gave the script to a friend whose widow eventually stumbled across it. The play was initially published last fall in The New Yorker. It has now been given its own handsome volume, the play in standard format accompanied by a facsimile of the typed manuscript (including handwritten edits by O'Neill). Added material includes a foreword by Edward Albee.

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