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As drama critic for The New Yorker, John Lahr has always striven to tell the story behind the story; to use biography and history as well as his skill as a critic to illuminate the theater and all of its players. Light Fantastic is a wide-ranging, comprehensive collection of his best critical pieces exploring the heart and soul of the theater.
From his penetrating examination of Oscar Wilde's path to self-destruction, to his tragic portrait of Joe Orton's corrosive relationship with Kenneth Halliwell; from his chronicle of the rise and fall and reprisal of the American musical to his insightful commentary on such playwrights as Tennessee Williams, Tony Kushner, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller and Tom Stoppard, John Lahr brilliantly illuminates the dazzling world of contemporary theater.
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Lahr is that rare bird in theatrical journalism--the prolific, witty, literate independent scholar. The regular New Yorker contributor creates exhaustively researched profiles that never descend into mere puffery and well-considered reviews that never resort to the glib, cruel, ad hominem attacks found in too much contemporary criticism. Reading these 41 pieces, it is hard not to be struck by Lahr's range, too, for his subjects span the spectrum of contemporary theater, from Harold Pinter to the politically engaged Anna Deavere Smith and even rebel stand-up comedian Bill Hicks. As you might expect from the son of the great clown Bert Lahr, he seems especially at home plumbing comedy's depths, and he has a great ear for great comic lines, both his own and others, but this expertise does not dim his eye for more somber work. Indeed, his discussions of serious comic playwrights Joe Orton and Tony Kushner (as well as of Barry Humphries--"Dame Edna Everage" ) make a dip into this book well worthwhile. Jack HelbigFrom Library Journal:
Lahr (Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton, Knopf, 1978) is one of our most important theater commentators. While he belongs a little more to journalism than scholarship, he clearly has a foot in each camp, and the world is his beat. This collection of recent pieces from The New Yorker are often spacious, always reflective, and nuanced. Organized in four sections (Comedians, Playwrights, Musicals, and Productions), these serious, well-written essays draw on interviews (Lahr haunts backstages, lobbies, dressing rooms, and rehearsal halls), biography, theater history, and performance-always performance. He probes theater as passion and ideas and has a wonderful ear for dialog and an eye for revealing detail that re-create the experience of specific performances. He can also be very funny. This book will be enjoyed by lay reader and theater professional alike and is recommended accordingly.
Thomas E. Luddy, Salem State Coll., Mass.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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