The Play That Changed My Life
Edited by Ben Hodges
Applause Books $18 99
Dateline: 25th January, 2010
It can only be a matter of time before some enterprising British writer
or organisation seeks to emulate the enterprising Howard Sherman who
thought up the idea and creates their own version of this novel book.
The American Theatre Wing, for those who do not know, is the founder
of the Tony awards but, more importantly, an organisation that has been
going for the best part of a century, dedicated to promoting excellence
and education in theatre.
Including Paula Vogel who wrote the introduction, Sherman, Executive
Director of the American Theatre Wing, and his editor Ben Hodges have
asked twenty playwrights to tell them about the play (or in some case
plays) that have influenced them most.
Some of the stories are truly inspirational and, as a whole, the book
proves that theatre can really change people's lives.
The stories will not only direct one to the life-changing plays but
it is inevitable that they also give readers an opportunity to learn
about the lives and ambitions of those who were so deeply affected.
As a consequence, by the end, readers will feel an urge to go and see
not only the life-changing plays but also works by the writers who have
selected them and surely that must be the dual purpose of this volume.
The writers chosen are a distinguished cross-section of playwrights
currently working in the United States. They include many names who
should be well known around the world such as David Auburn (who wrote
Proof), John Patrick Shanley (Doubt), Nilo Cruz (Anna
in the Tropics) and Beth Henley (Crimes of the Heart).
There is also the redoubtable Horton Foote, who sadly died recently
in his 90s and must surely soon be much more widely recognised as a
great playwright. To add to the mix, there are also playwrights who
may not be known outside their home country but have fascinating stories
The only way to get a good impression of The Play That Changed My
Life is by using a few examples. The most exciting and moving of
all these tales is written by a playwright whom I had not previously
come across, David Ives. As he was trying to establish himself as a
writer, Ives had the good fortune to see a matinee of Edward Albee's
A Delicate Balance starring Hume Cronin and Jessica Tandy. Later,
through a stroke of good luck, that famous couple helped to launch his
film screenwriting career.
There are many other stories of the wonderful obsessions that theatre
can create in devotees, particularly those who wish to wed themselves
to it for life. Nilo Cruz had his eyes opened by Maria Irene Fornes'
Mud and she also proved a significant figure in the early career
of Paula Vogel.
Strangely, Shakespeare features only once (plus a more passing reference)
but memorably, thanks to the enthusiasm of Diana Son, whose appreciation
of a phenomenal female Hamlet at the Public knows no bounds and makes
one deeply envious.
For the most part, although John Patrick Shanley plumped for Edmund
Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, it is modern writers who hold greater
sway, everyone from Tennessee Williams and Harold Pinter to Ionesco,
Peter Shaffer's Equus and inevitably, Lorraine Hansberry's A
Raisin in the Sun.
What becomes apparent in so many of these cases is that the plays chosen
have not only led to a career in show business but also helped these
writers to understand and accept themselves, usually in terms of either
their racial or sexual status.
The Play That Changed My Life is a very good read that will
make people fall in love with theatre and plays all over again. If that
is not enough of a recommendation, then it is hard to know what would
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