[Lahr's] interviews are themselves gleeful illuminations of art and its mysterious process, as he blends vivid details with erudite scrutiny of plays…Even if you squabble with Lahr…his passionate arguments are always worth engaging. Some of his towering subjectsMiller, Bergman, Pinter, Wilson and Nicholsare now gone, but the book avoids an elegiac tone. Instead, and despite its nostalgia, Lahr creates a book worthy of its title: It is a living celebration of theater itself.
The New York Times Book Review - Caryn James
Former New Yorker drama critic Lahr (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh) spotlights more brilliantly neurotic theater personalities in his latest incisive, exuberant collection of pieces from the magazine. His journalistic profiles of playwrights and directors, including Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Tony Kushner, Neil Labute, Harold Pinter, Ingmar Bergman, and Mike Nichols, map the deep plumes of upwelling anxiety and obsession that drive their art, linking the antiheroes in the plays to their creators’ latent hostility, desperate need for control, and persecution complexes, and thence to their issues with weak or rivalrous fathers, cold or histrionic mothers, childhood humiliations, and miscellaneous scars from the family snake pit. Through lively, sympathetic interviews with his subjects and probing interpretations of their works, Lahr sketches their personalities, assesses their effects on the theater scene, and explores motifs—the corrosive effects of atomized individualism, the impossibility of communication and connection—that pervade their work. Sprinkled in are reviews of landmark productions of the last few decades that mix shrewd studies of characters and themes—“It is existence, not success, that eludes” Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman, he writes—with rapt evocations of acting and staging. Lahr’s vivid reportage, trenchant insight, and infectious love of the stage will remind readers just how exciting modern theater can be. (Sept.)
"[Lahr’s] interviews are themselves gleeful illuminations of art and its mysterious process, as he blends vivid details with erudite scrutiny of plays…His passionate arguments are always worth engaging…Lahr creates a book worthy of its title: It is a living celebration of theater itself."
New York Times Book Review - Caryn James
"Engaging and loquacious company."
"Informed, wide ranging, and charming…the pieces are, without exception, captivating. A must for theatergoers and theater collections."
"Impressive, entertaining and insightful…so worth reading or worth reading a second time around."
Dallas Morning News - Michelle Jones
"Chatty, learned and wittily opinionated, Lahr’s essays bring us not only his passion for theater, but also his zest for the artistic and creative life."
"John Lahr writes—beautifully—about the theatre and those who make it with an unrivalled blend of enthusiasm, perception, and analytical precision. This book is justly titled—his joy is irresistible."
"Lahr patiently mines the essence of his subjects—playwrights, directors—with the affection of a fan, the insight of a confidant and the authorial flair of an experienced critic…a delight to read."
"Lahr…must be one of the world’s foremost experts on “show people”….[he has] an ability to look past these authors’ mythologies without demeaning their achievements."
Literary Hub - Jonathan Russell Clark
"100 years from now this is where people will look to see what it was like back then. Bravo!"
Lahr (Tennessee Williams) wrote these theater reviews and profiles of playwrights and directors during his tenure as The New Yorker's senior drama critic. This third collection follows Show and Tell and Honky Tonk Parade. The playwrights featured here include David Mamet, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, Sarah Ruhl, and Tony Kushner. William Shakespeare is also represented in a description of director and playwright John Barton. Nicholas Hytner, Ingmar Bergman, Susan Stroman, and Mike Nichols are the directors portrayed. There are reviews of recent productions such as Arcadia, The Pajama Game, The Light in the Piazza, and Carousel. Lahr writes that his aim "is to bring theatergoers up close and personal with the artists and their processes, with the plays and the playwrights, with what they seek to express and how they express it." VERDICT Faithful readers of The New Yorker will enjoy revisiting these articles. Anyone interested in the history of the American theater and contemporary drama will applaud these thoughtful and critical pieces. [See Prepub Alert, 3/23/15.]—Carolyn M. Mulac, Chicago
Portraits from a devoted theatergoer. From 1992 to 2012, Lahr (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, 2014, etc.) served as the New Yorker's theater critic, publishing nearly 1 million words. This collection brings together 16 lively profiles of playwrights and directors, along with reviews of a sampling of their works and assorted other productions. Only two women—playwright Sarah Ruhl and director Susan Stroman—appear in a roster that includes such luminaries as Arthur Miller, David Mamet, David Rabe, Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard, Ingmar Bergman, and Mike Nichols. Wallace Shawn, whom Lahr has known for decades, is a surprising—and delightful—addition. Asserting that criticism "is on the decline" because of media's focus on lifestyles and celebrity, Lahr aims to provide context, illuminating the goals and artistry of his subjects. "Over time, if all goes well," he writes, "I can ask the forbidden questions, and get answers." Not all subjects are forthcoming, although the strongest of these profiles reflect Lahr's dexterity as an interviewer. Miller talks about the genesis of Death of a Salesman in Americans' "moral condemnation" of failure. The first performance, Miller told the author, was met with stunned silence until "someone thought to applaud, and then the house came apart." Mamet reflects on "the helpless collusion of children with their parents' sadism" in the "emotional hurricane" of his family's life, which fueled his plays. In deftly crafted reviews, Lahr praises the premiere of Ruhl's Stage Kiss as a "bright and buoyant thing" and Stroman for her dedication "to banishing gravity from the stage." The profile of Shepard seems drawn entirely from publications by and about the playwright, resulting in a piece that lacks the intimacy of some others, such as the author's portraits of the "arch manipulator" Bergman; Pinter, debilitated from esophageal cancer; and the "courtly, unassuming" Tony Kushner. An exuberant, entertaining collection.