THE BOOK SHELF: "The Letters of Elia Kazan," a New Biography of Olivier, "Two-Actor Plays" and Long Day's Journey Into Night

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27 Apr 2014

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Two-actor plays are not exactly rare; there have been numerous fine ones over the years, including prize-winners like The Gin Game; Sleuth; Two for the Seesaw; 'Night, Mother; and Same Time, Next Year. A good play is a good play, whether it has a big cast or small; the reverse is true as well. (This past week included one such specimen, The Velocity of Autumn.)

People looking for contemporary two-person plays can find a couple of dozen in "Plays for Two: A Dazzling New Collection of 28 Plays for Two Actors" edited by Eric Lane and Nina Shengold [Vintage]. This book is pretty much what the title implies. Four of the plays are full-length, including the one acclaimed title in the volume, David Ives' Venus in Fur. I am unfamiliar with the other full plays, Shooting Star by Steven Dietz, Black Pearl Sings! by Frank Higgins, and The Art of Sacrifice by Anthony Clarvoe. The many one-acts include work by Paul Rudnick, Doug Wright, Halley Feiffer, Neil LaBute and David Auburn.

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A five-character play — and a world-class one — is Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night. Yale University Press has brought us a new "critical edition" of the play, edited by William Davies King and featuring a foreword by Jessica Lange (reflecting her experience playing Mary Tyrone in the acclaimed 2000 London production). King's commentary includes "Notes and Context"; an O'Neill chronology; "Historical and Critical Perspectives"; an essay on "The Play in Production," including the playwright's own pencil diagrams of the actual living room in the family home; and an annotated bibliography.

Casual readers need not run out and replace their existing copies of the play, as O'Neill's text remains as it was. For new readers, students, and intense fans of the play, though, this new edition provides added insight and is handsomely done.

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(Steven Suskin is author of the updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," "A Must See," the "Broadway Yearbook" series, and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)



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