Thursday, May 16, 2013

Just finished a book titled Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told."   Papp was the guiding light behind the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater for many years and shepherded a host of  new playwrights including David Rabe, Jason Miller, and Ntozake Shange.  His hand was also on breakout Broadway hits including  Hair, Chorus Line, and Pirates of Penzance.

The format of the book carries us through his career and the shows produced in Central Park and at the Public Theater through  the vehicle of interviews with Papp, the directors, actors, and other personnel who were involved in the productions.  This makes the narrative a bit jumpy and sometimes repetitive, but for any comtemporary theatre historian, dramaturg, or director of the works covered, there is some fertile loam to sift through.  Think of it more as a research tool for the professional rather than something the casual reader might pick up and read from cover to cover.

I did enjoy one fine pun story from the 1975 production of Hamlet in Central Park. John Lithgow was playing Laertes and slipped while leaping into the grave during the fight scene.  He injured his knee and had to be taken to the hospital.   Mr. Papp was heard to say after the event, "Well I guess you can't make a Hamlet without breaking some legs. "    

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