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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
If Tracey Ullman were a musician, she would have perfect pitch. To say that she is a performer of diverse talents would be gross understatement: She has romped her way through the world of entertainment, from film and pop music (remember "They Don't Know About Us..."?) to television and Broadway (in her youth, before she made it big, she was even a professional dancer), and at the ripe young age of 39, it seems she's hammed it up on seemingly every stage available. Now she's written a book, "Tracey Takes On," and in doing so has provided more evidence, as if it were needed, that her comic range knows no bounds -- and maybe no equal.
"Tracey Takes On" (in case you've been spending too much time watching Charles Grodin, or live in a cave) is the name of Ullman's award-winning HBO comedy series. In the show, Ullman portrays an amazing gallery of characters that she has developed over the years -- Long Island housewife Fern Rosenthall, retired Hollywood make-up artist Ruby Romaine, New York City cabby and sex maniac Chic, Australian stuntwoman Rayleen Gibson, a member of the British Royal Family known only as Her Royal Highness, and a host of others. Through each of her characters, Ullman presents a different and always devastatingly funny perspective on the human condition. It is without question some of the most intelligent humor around.
Tracey Takes On is essentially a companion volume to the show, with a good deal of the material coming directly out of episodes from the first two seasons, but it also stands on its own very nicely. It's divided smartly into chapters by subject(Fame, Sex, Royalty, Childhood), each of which has an introduction in Ullman's own voice, followed by some hoice thoughts on the topic from several of her alter egos. The introductory pieces are full of personal anecdotes -- about her childhood, her performance career, her family life -- that serve as a neat little autobiography. They are as funny as anything the characters have to say, and it's nice to see that Ullman is capable of writing prose with the same effortlessly humorous flare with which she performs. In the rest of the book, the voice and personality of each character is so distinct, so real (if exaggerated), that by the end it's hard to get your mind around the fact that one person is responsible for all of them. It's worth noting that one benefit you get from the book that you don't get from watching the show is the cumulative effect of hearing the characters again and again in rapid succession.
This is the basic structure of Tracey Takes On, but it doesn't begin to draw an accurate picture of what the book is really like, because the characters and their words come at you in a multitude of forms. There are articles about Fern Rosenthall from Mondo Condo, her Boca Raton retirement community's newsletter; there's a short screenplay by another character, student activist Hope Finch, included in a letter she has written to Harvey Weinstein, president of Miramax; there are diary entries, police reports, and doctor's notes, Internet shopping-channel chat transcripts, recorded phone conversations, and I.R.S. interviews. There are also pictures galore. And paper doll cutouts. And to-do lists. And address books. And on and on and on.... It is a hilarious, carnival ride of a book, and I strongly suggest that it be read in the tub for maximum frolicking enjoyment. Tracey Takes On is great fun for those who are already fans of this incredible talent, and will also work as an excellent introduction for those who aren't. -- Olli Chanoff