Theatre Bob Smith Hamlet's Dresser: A Memoir

ISBN 13: 9780684852690

Hamlet's Dresser: A Memoir

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9780684852690: Hamlet's Dresser: A Memoir

Bob Smith grew up in a town named for Shakespeare's birthplace: Stratford, Connecticut. His troubled childhood was spent in a struggle to help his devastated parents care for his severely retarded sister. But at age ten, Smith stumbled onto a line from The Merchant of Venice: "In sooth I know not why I am so sad." In the language of Shakespeare, he had found a window through which to view the world.
When he was a teenager, the American Shakespeare Festival moved into Stratford and Smith became Hamlet's dresser. As he watched the plays from backstage, his life's passion took shape, "I was a lonely, screwed-up kid, but the circus had come to town," Smith writes. "It had put up its strange tent, and I was being seduced to run away with it."
Here, in prose Smith tells the story of a life shaped by poetry.

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Review:

Of what do we write when we write of love? In Bob Smith's case, it is Shakespeare's poems and plays. Hamlet's Dresser braids two strands of his life into a modest, heartbreaking, and soaringly affirmative memoir. A bookish, lonely child, his crush on the Bard's work became love when, as an alienated teenager, he joined the American Shakespeare Theatre as Hamlet's dresser. In time he would dress other characters, perform in small roles, become a coach and a watcher, and eventually lead senior citizens' groups in Shakespeare-appreciation courses. But this ecstatic marriage was haunted by his sad, contorted childhood: an increasingly dysfunctional mother, a distant father, and Caroline, his profoundly retarded sister. "Art," he writes, "can be a brutal thing, not just some decoration placed over the truth, but the truth itself." Smith's prose is bluntly ineffable: a rundown theatre looks like "Miss Havisham's bride cake" and the first teacher who didn't like him was "Miss Shumaker. It was right after I stopped pleasing everybody." The book is thick with short passages from Shakespeare. Placed in perfect context, they leap from the pages, abrupt as panoramic pop-ups. --H. O'Billovich

About the Author:

Bob Smith has devoted his life to teaching and directing Shakespeare, working with college students, famous actors, and the elderly. He recently moved back to Stratford, Connecticut, where he was born.

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