Monday, December 08, 2008

Intermission Talk: December 7, 2008

Staying 'On Book' or Tony Vellela Picks Great Gift Ideas

Holidays often prompt an irrational desire to look back, so instead of fighting that urge, use it to pick out a few books that will delight others, or reward yourself for making it through this last year. [or in the voice of Elaine Stritch - "I'm ... still ... HERE!!!"]

With the announcement that Joan Allen will be returning to Broadway with Jeremy Irons in March, in the new play "Impressionism" by Michael Jacobs, what better vehicle to bring back the memory of one of the American theatre's most celebrated works, than picking up a copy of playwright Wendy Wasserstein's much-awarded The Heidi Chronicles. Joan was the original Heidi, in 1988, first at Playwrights Horizons, and later on Broadway. Unlike many comedy/dramas that cross the boards, this one both reads well, and reads funny.

There's a lot to smile at in Eli Wallach's autobiography, The Good, the Bad, and Me, self-deprecatingly subtitled "In My Anecdotage." If you've ever spent more than six minutes with Eli, you know that there is no 'dotage' going on in that sharp brain. His anecdotes about the early days of the Group Theatre, the New York theatre scene in the fabled fifties, and a movie career that spans [active verb - he still works] more than half a century, this charming tale of work and love [he's been married to Anne Jackson since 1948] is a keeper, and also a passer-along-to-others.

Another celebrated career that influenced generations was that of Uta Hagen. With her husband Herbert Berghof, Uta built the HB Studio, a place for serious students of theatre to learn, experiment and strive. And although her book Respect for Acting has become a mainstay of theatre departments, she once told me that the one that followed - A Challenge for the Actor - is the one she strongly recommends for anyone who is serious about their craft. A giant in the world of the theatre, her observations and exercises and ideas and comments and admonitions are worth revisiting again and again.

If you have reached the point in your career as a playwright, a composer, a lyricist or a librettist, where you have decided to see what's out there for you, TCG's Dramatists Sourcebook is what used to be called 'an invaluable tool.' Well, it is. And if you are lucky enough to have the resources to attend Broadway shows more than twice a year, the gorgeous chronicle titled At This Theatre, named after the column that appears in Playbills each month, is a feast of lists and credits, facts and images. Edited with great attention to detail by Louis Botto, and with a preface by Brian Stokes Mitchell, the glossy 300+ page jewel calls itself "100 Years of Broadway Shows, Stories and Stars." So until you get to add your name to that list, [or even if it's already there], you should turn off the phone, stretch out on the afghan Aunt Sue gave you for Christmas, pour another glass of whatever that is you're drinking, and enjoy.

TONY VELLELA, the veteran theatre correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, writes and produces the PBS series about theatre, "Character Studies". His work has also appeared in Parade, Theatre Week, USA Today, Dramatics, Rolling Stone, and several other publications.