Thursday, September 20, 2012

Five top books about life in the theater

Simon Callow is an actor, director, and writer. He has appeared in many films, including the hugely popular Four Weddings and a Funeral (he played Gareth). His books include Being an Actor, Shooting the Actor, a highly acclaimed biography of Charles Laughton, a biographical trilogy on Orson Welles (of which the first two parts have now been published), and Love Is Where It Falls, an account of his friendship with the great play agent Peggy Ramsay. His recent books include My Life in Pieces, which won the Sheridan Morley Prize in 2011, and Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World.

One of his five best books about life in the theatre, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Last Call
by Harry Mulisch (1985)

In this remarkable novel the great Dutch author, who died in 2010, approaches his obsessively repeated subject of World War II from an unusual angle: An obscure old cabaret artist is recruited by an avant-garde company to play a Prospero-like figure in "Hurricane," a new play modeled after Shakespeare's "The Tempest." A newspaper interviewer discovers that the old man happily performed for the Nazis during the war and that he expresses no regret for it; he is nonetheless allowed to continue with the play. His motives and personality are more and more complexly delineated as the novel becomes a meditation on art and theater, on aging and on transcendence, incorporating as it goes reflections on the "Fushikaden," the great 15th-century Japanese acting manual. Finally, and sublimely, the novel modulates into a re-creation of a farewell performance of "The Tempest" by a great Dutch actor, until the Shakespearean echoes that have proliferated throughout the book reach a kind of ecstatic culmination. It is an extraordinary novel, hallucinatory in parts but hallucinatory in the way the stage can sometimes be, a series of bewitching and unsettling illusions that bespeak profound truths.
Read about the other books on the list.

See--Simon Callow's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue