Real Life Drama: The Group Theatre and America, 1931-1940

Wendy Smith, Author Alfred A. Knopf $24.95 (482p) ISBN 978-0-394-57445-5
Widely considered America's finest acting ensemble during the 1930s, the Group Theatre, with its self-defined mission to reconnect theater to the world of ideas and actions, staged plays that confronted social and moral issues. Brought strikingly to life here by New York-based writer-editor Smith, members Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, Stella and Luther Adler, Clifford Odets, Elia Kazan and an ill-assorted band of idealistic actors living hand to mouth are seen welded in a collective of creativity that was also a tangle of jealousies, love affairs and explosive feuds. While the Group, ``on Broadway but not of it,'' never resolved the contradiction of working in commercial theater with a noncommmercial philosophy, this prodigiously researched, definitive chronicle demonstrates that its quest for emotional truth revolutionized the craft of acting. A shrewd mix of history, criticism, biography and gossip, the book reveals that the company meant different things to different members: for Stella Adler, raised on European classics in Yiddish theater, playing a faded Southern belle held little attraction, neither did the ensemble's communal life; playwright Odets looked to the Group for artistic and spiritual salvation; Clurman, flamboyant, often arrogant but approachable, held the others together. Smith forthrightly deals with the still controversial issue of the Group's politicization, tracing members' growing radicalism and ties to workers' theaters around the country. From its birth in the Depression to its breakup as Hitler's armies overran Europe, the Group's 10-year saga, as told here, is dramatic and inspirational, illuminating the actors' efforts to make art a force for change, to integrate work and personal life. Photos. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/1990
Release date: 11/01/1990
Paperback - 482 pages - 978-0-8021-3300-7
Open Ebook - 433 pages - 978-0-307-83098-2
Paperback - 488 pages - 978-0-345-80599-7
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