cover image The Lively Art: Twenty Years of the American Repertory Theatre

The Lively Art: Twenty Years of the American Repertory Theatre

Jan Geidt. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, $28.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-1-56663-244-7

Admirers of the innovative, challenging American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.), which has made its home in Cambridge, Mass., under the aegis of Harvard University since 1979, will enjoy this selection of articles and interviews culled from A.R.T.'s programs and newsletters. More rigorous readers may find it a bit fluffy, despite contributions by such eminent artists and scholars as Andrei Serban, Peter Sellars, Susan Sontag, Harry Levin, Don DeLillo and Harold Bloom. The pieces were all originally published to promote specific productions, so it's hardly surprising to find interviews full of soft-ball questions like, ""How do you feel about your return to the A.R.T.?"" and ""Is there anything else you'd like to say about The Old Neighborhood?"" Most of the articles by academics are short rehashes of received wisdom on the subject at hand (Ibsen as the first great modern dramatist, for example), although Robert Scanlan's essay on Waiting for Godot eschews the usual gaze-into-the-void clich s and usefully reminds us of the play's roots in Beckett's experiences in the French Resistance. The introduction by artistic director Robert Brustein has his customary punchiness--he cheerfully admits the company lost half its subscribers after its second season--and the final piece by managing director Rob Orchard makes a strong case for A.R.T.'s decision (unusual in America) to perform rotating repertory with a permanent company of actors. The book nicely documents the unique character of A.R.T.'s production history, its strong emphasis on avant-garde interpretations of the classics (from Shakespeare to relative obscurities like Gozzi's The King Stag) and its sideline in new plays by writers like David Mamet and Marsha Norman. But it still reads like program notes. 45 b&w photos. (June)