Swans Commentary » swans.com December 5, 2005  



A Playwright's Guide To Life


by Ivan Gold


Book Review



Marowitz, Charles; How to Stage a Play, Make a Fortune, Win a Tony, and Become a Theatrical Icon Amadeus Press/Limelight Editions, October 2005 - ISBN: 0879103221, 152 pages. $12.95 (paperback).


(Swans - December 5, 2005)  ...or perhaps that's not your cup of tea. Still, you might read Charles Marowitz's latest book with profit, since it distils the wit and wisdom to be gleaned from the pages of his previous thirty-eight. So substantial a corpus, crafted in so ebullient a style, compels one to conclude that Marowitz produces the volumes with no great concern about their ultimate fate, and that his laments now and then about his scanty readership are just a scrim for an ungovernable passion.

In his introduction to How to Stage a Play, etc. the author invites us to contemplate its lengthy title, born, he asserts, of a "...contemptible commercial motive," a "... craven wish to bag a larger readership." But as I say, the misdirection need not detain us. In fact, the title may perversely serve to limit, rather than expand, his audience. The book is about theatre, certainly, and theatre lore, subjects in which the author is steeped, and in particular it is about the problems besetting the director of a play, but it is not (as he accurately states) a "how-to" book, and what Marowitz might call its subtext reaches well beyond the footlights. Even a stick-in-the-mud like the present reviewer, who would rather direct King Lear from an armchair and play all the parts himself than venture into the inclement Boston night, was struck by its breadth and humor and detail.

How to direct the drama of one's own small yet significant life so as to artfully get from one end of it to the other despite all the folks who will get in the way is the author's real subject, and if the actress determined to play Hedda Gabler as a bulimic, the black actor who wishes to tamp down Othello's rage, the playwright who stalks the aisle and tears at his bald spot so that he has to be banned from rehearsals, the lighting guy guilty of "overilluminating the lily," since his function is to "light the language," the intrusively ambitious set and costume designers, the need to stage manage curtain calls, and, finally, the making sense of the reviews, which can shut him down or give him insight, assuming he is able to distinguish between "sensible criticism and fatuous journalese..." if these directorial hazards are not perfect analogues to the obstacles in your life and mine, they do conjure them up, as we chase after the love object or the holy grail.

Marowitz (perhaps this is the place to note I have known him for sixty years) has been staging plays since he was seventeen, most recently in Prague last year, where he directed (to good reviews) Vaclav Havel's Temptation, and he is scheduled to direct Silent Partners, his adaptation of Eric Bentley's The Brecht Memoir, in Washington D.C. in 2006. He has won awards as a playwright; his Sherlock's Last Case ran on Broadway, his Murdering Marlowe, with its perfect ear for 16th century diction and intrigue, is a work of art. As a freewheeling translator, he has rendered readable and playable versions of Rostand's Cyrano and a trio of French boulevard comedies. In Burnt Bridges, his autobiographical reflections on London in the 1960s, he recreates the artistic climate of that time and place, where he lived for nearly two decades, working alongside Peter Brook at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and founding the longlived experimental theatre "Open Space." The best of his widely-published theatre pieces -- he began his career as a reviewer -- is available in Confessions of a Counterfeit Critic. There are several earlier books on how to direct a play (Directing the Action, Prospero's Staff) and others on how to act in one (The Act of Being, The Other Way). Roar of the Canon (2001) consists in part of a long interview with Jan Kott, author of Shakespeare, Our Contemporary, and what it does, among other things, is illuminate the chutzpah which led Marowitz to refashion several of Shakespeare's plays (The Marowitz Hamlet, An Othello, A Macbeth). These plays are in constant production on both sides of the Atlantic. The Other Chekhov (2004) is a meticulously researched study of the career of Michael Chekhov, the largely neglected Russian actor who mentored Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Hopkins, among others.

If any or all of these achievements has passed you by, as Marowitz says he fears, you may still know him as a contributor to Swans.com of incisive political commentary and wide-ranging book and theatre reviews. And once you're done with this particular book, you may well be moved to cherry-pick the first 38. An autodidact who takes perhaps inordinate pleasure in the fact that he never went to college, Marowitz will slip up now and then, type "progeny" when he means to say "progenitor," and, in an odd metaphor that strays from the art he knows everything about, he has a pot being fired before it is glazed.

But a good copy editor would have made all this right, and, as Randall Jarrell said about a genre that at its best offers pleasures similar to those available in How to Stage a Play, Make a Fortune, Win a Tony, and Become a Theatrical Icon: "[A novel] is a prose narrative of a certain length that has something wrong with it."

We devour them nonetheless.


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Marowitz, Charles; How to Stage a Play, Make a Fortune, Win a Tony, and Become a Theatrical Icon Amadeus Press/Limelight Editions, October 2005 - ISBN: 0879103221, 152 pages. $12.95 (paperback).

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About the Author

Ivan Gold is the author of the short story collection Nickel Miseries and the novels Sick Friends and Sams in a Dry Season. He teaches at Boston University.



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Published December 5, 2005