Playing to the Gods: Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, and the Rivalry That Changed Acting Forever

Peter Rader. Simon & Schuster, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4767-3837-6
Screenwriter Rader makes his first foray into nonfiction with this delectable tale of two feuding stage actresses at the end of the 19th century. Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923), the better known of the two, commanded the stage, never disappearing into her roles. Wildly popular and a self-promotional genius, she transformed acting from disreputable entertainment to high art and mined her professional and private lives to invent the “eccentric celebrity” archetype. Born in Paris to an unmarried Jewish courtesan, Bernhardt used sex to secure patrons and break into acting. Eleonora Duse (1858–1924), born to a family of wandering Italian troubadours, first appeared on stage at age four. She later adopted an acting method different from her idol Bernhardt, disappearing into her characters. Her revolutionary style ushered in a new era of acting that threatened to leave Bernhardt behind. Writing in a style both humorous and romantic, and throwing in juicy tidbits (catty notes, cheating lovers) all along, Rader follows the careers of both women, leading to their 1895 dueling stage performances in London (in which Bernhardt intentionally tried to undermine Duse by putting on the same play Duse had already planned—but premiering two days earlier) and the subsequent escalation of their rivalry (in which Duse “hijacked” a role from Bernhardt in a performance for the U.S. president). This entertaining chronicle illustrates how both women captivated audiences and made a lasting impact on the theater. Agent: Becky Sweren, Aevitas Creative Management. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/04/2018
Release date: 08/21/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-1-4767-3839-0
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-5082-6140-7
Compact Disc - 978-1-5082-6141-4
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-5082-7693-7
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-4767-3838-3
Compact Disc - 978-1-5082-6375-3
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