Not the most eloquent expression in the theatrical world, but it's short and it says it. Which is kind of the idea behind a new book, edited by Russell Vandenbrouke, wherein hundreds of stage-related quotes by the famous and infamous are compiled and organized for research and browsing.
Titled "The Theatre Quotation Book: A Treasury of Insights and Insults," the palm-sized, hardcover Limelight Editions tome contains 244 pages of words, words, words — all dealing with various aspects of the theatre. As playwright Tony Kushner (Homebody/Kabul, Angels in America) puts it in his foreword, "OK, so a lot of what is recorded here is funny and flip and castoff, and while Hegel and Kant and Aristotle put in their appearances, some of what our hunter and gather has offered us seems a little tatty, a little gossamer to be keeping company with Melville, the Kaballah and the Great Ineffable, but isn't that precisely what theatre is like?"
While that quote may not be rolling off tongues fifty years from now, some others in the book have stood the test of time, such as Kenneth Tynan's definition of a critic as "someone who knows the way but can't drive the car," or Harold Clurman's "We think about the play, but we enjoy the show." Ernest Hemingway is quoted, replying to a Clurman question with, "You ask me if I've written a play? Who the hell hasn't?"
Stella Adler's four words of acting advice, "Speak Yiddish — think British" — are included, as is this exhortation from everyone's favorite esthete, Adolf Hitler: "Art must be the handmaiden of sublimity and beauty and thus promote whatever is natural and healthy." Right. Jean Cocteau had a more liberal view of the artistic process, noting, "The muses do not lead — they open the door and point at the tightrope," while Shubert Organization chairman Gerald Schoenfeld finds that from his perspective, "There's no profit like non-profit."
The quotes in "Treasury" are organized into a kind of plorm, with a prologue, two acts, many scenes and an epilogue. Scenes are topic oriented, with such themes as "Commercial Success," "Writing Plays" and "Designing Ways." Some lines of dialogue from plays do creep in (e.g., Miss Prism's "The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means"), but the vast majority of quotations were spoken about the stage, rather than from it.
Though the book carries a publication date of November 2001, it's only now being officially released, according to a Limelight Editions spokesperson. Author Vandenbroucke is a critic (American Theatre), playwright (Atomic Bombers) and former artistic director of Chicago's Northlight Theatre.
We'll leave the last words on this to Samuel Beckett: "All's well that ends."
— By David Lefkowitz