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Anne Bancroft in the film of <em>The Miracle Worker</em>

Pages from the Arts: January 2018

In this month's review of performing arts books, we look at new biographies of Anne Bancroft and Glenn Gould, plus scripts for Hillary and Clinton, and Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue.



published Wednesday, January 10, 2018

In Pages from the Arts, we review books that relate to what we cover on the site: theater, opera, classical music, dance, comedy, spoken word and film/TV with a stage connection. Look for our opinions on biographies, memoirs, histories, work about practice and theory, coffee table books and other tomes. These will be curated and mostly written by contributor Cathy Ritchie, Acquisitions Librarian at the Dallas Public Library. Ritchie also reviews books for the websites of the Dallas Public Library, Theatre Library Association, and the American Library Association’s GLBT Round Table, plus other publications.

Pages from the Arts will also include reviews from other TheaterJones contributors, and we encourage our readers to suggest and submit reviews, too. If you're reading a newish (let's say less than a year old) book that falls into a performing arts category, email editor Mark Lowry at marklowry@theaterjones.com and let him know you'd be interested in reviewing it. If you have written or contributed to a book that fits the mission, let him know that too, especially if there is a North Texas connection.

If the book is currently available at the Dallas Public Library, we'll offer that information.

In this edition of Pages from the Arts: New biographies of acclaimed and award-winning actress Anne Bancroft, quixotic pianist Glenn Gould, plus the scripts of Lucas Hnath's Hillary and Clinton, and Quiara Alegría Hudes' Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue.

 

 

NO CAPTION

Anne Bancroft: A Life

By Douglass K. Daniel

University Press of Kentucky, 2017

ISBN 9780813169682

356 pp.

This book is available at the Dallas Public LibraryCLICK HERE

 

When you think about Anne Bancroft, what do we see? To some extent, an answer may depend on one’s age.

To some, she will always be remembered as the one and only Mrs. Robinson, world-weary “older woman” seductress of Dustin Hoffman’s lost soul Benjamin Braddock in 1965’s iconic The Graduate (though Bancroft was only six years his senior).

But for those of a slightly earlier time—especially those like yours truly with a childhood fascination for all things Helen Keller-related—Bancroft will live on as The Miracle Worker’s Anne Sullivan, Keller’s remarkable “Teacher,” which she portrayed in Tony- and Oscar-winning performances on stage and film, both times co-starring with the late, great Patty Duke as Helen.

While Bancroft may be most immediately known for her film output, she first sprang to overnight stardom via the Broadway stage, and continued alternating her movie work with theatre roles whenever possible. (She was, in fact, onstage in Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children in New York the night she won the Oscar.) Her versatility was undeniable, as was her commitment to the art of acting.

Douglass K. Daniel’s thorough, engaging new biography offers entertaining insight into a remarkable woman whose passion for her work imbued her life till its very end.

Anna Marie Italiano was born in the Bronx in 1931, and her “native” accent never completely left her. Her acting talent was readily apparent, and she received training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the Actors Studios, and other venues. Using the name Anne Marno, she began her career during the “Golden Age” of 1950s live television drama, but became “Bancroft” after her film debut in 1952’s Don’t Bother To Knock, starring Marilyn Monroe.

The stage always beckoned, however, and, in 1958, she made her Broadway bow in William Gibson’s two-hander comedy, Two for the Seesaw, in which her only co-star was, as Daniel describes, a not-always-congenial Henry Fonda. Bancroft became a smash sensation for her idiosyncratic portrayal of free spirit Gittle Mosca, winning a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress.

She reunited with Gibson and director Arthur Penn for Broadway’s The Miracle Worker in 1960, preparing for the Sullivan role by checking into an unfamiliar hotel and taping her eyes shut, so as to introduce herself to living as a blind person. The production became legendary for the no-holds-barred physical onstage battles between her and Patty Duke, which Daniel describes in detail; those “fight scenes” were largely replicated in toto in the 1962 film. For her second stage triumph, Bancroft won the Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Play.

The Miracle Worker’s screen version brought Bancroft not only the Oscar (joined by Duke as Best Supporting Actress) but national acclaim: Time Magazine proclaimed the women’s tandem efforts “possibly the most moving double performance ever recorded on film.” Bancroft became one of the few actors to receive a Tony and an Oscar for the same role.

Film work began to predominate, with additional Oscar nominations along the way, though Bancroft frequently returned to live performance. As Daniel puts it: “She enjoyed making contemporary dramatic films with strong female characters but also felt the pull of the stage, whether it was a suspenseful story set in Greenwich Village…or an intellectually challenging work with a foreign pedigree.” But despite her renown, and the brief career upturn Mrs. Robinson afforded her, Bancroft would find stimulating female roles elusive as the decades passed, particularly for women over a certain age. (Sound familiar?)

While, as Daniel relates, Bancroft endured her share of flops and disappointments both on screen and stage, her ultimate body of work was substantial. Additional Oscar nominations came for The Pumpkin Eater, The Graduate, The Turning Point and Agnes of God. Other significant films included ‘Night, Mother, Torch Song Trilogy, The Slender Thread, Prisoner of Second Avenue, The Elephant Man, and Garbo Talks. Her stage appearances included Mother Courage, The Little Foxes, Golda, Duet for One, and Occupant.

She also appeared in several Emmy-winning television sketch performance specials, and, as I personally recall, she gave a moving performance in the title role of a 1994 PBS Great Performances presentation of Paddy Chayefsky’s The Mother, as an older woman attempting to resume a seamstress career after her husband’s death, but learning that time has sadly passed her by. However, near the end of her life, Bancroft was seen largely in supporting film roles only, arguably not all worthy of her talents. Daniel’s chronology of Bancroft’s creative output is continually well presented and engrossing.

After an early brief marriage, Bancroft began a relationship in 1961 with one Melvin Kaminsky, better known to us all as Mel Brooks. They wed in 1964 and while the union may have seemed “odd couple”-ish to many, their mutual devotion as a couple thrived until her death, their years together highlighted by the birth of son Max. When asked in 2014 to name his greatest accomplishment, Mel Brooks responded “Marrying Anne Bancroft.”

Unbeknownst to many, Bancroft dealt with various forms of cancer during her later years, though she strove to continue working and fulfilling commitments as was possible. She died of uterine cancer in 2005 at age 73—surprising even some friends, as she had kept her final illness a largely private matter.

Daniel admirably presents a balanced view of Anne Bancroft the actress, wife/mother, private citizen, and women’s advocate. We witness her questionable artistic decisions as well as her successes. And we also learn of her occasional diva-esque moments, especially if she believed she was not receiving appropriate respect from fellow cast members on a project. But, above all, we meet a good lady and dedicated artist, with talents perhaps somewhat underappreciated in her own time. Be our memories focused on Mrs. Robinson, Anne Sullivan, or the other strong women in her repertoire, Anne Bancroft worked hard to bring conviction and humanity to them all.

 

 

NO CAPTION

The Great Gould

By Peter Goddard

Dundurn Publishing, 2017

ISBN  9781459733091

176 pp.

This book is available at the Dallas Public LibraryCLICK HERE 

 

I can’t recall when I first saw film footage of Glenn Gould at the piano, but I assume my initial reaction was astonishment. What a vision: a man sitting on a short-legged, wooden straight-back chair, nose almost touching the keyboard, with continual head movements and eye rolls, but most of all—humming along with the music he played. As a non-pianist child back then, I probably asked myself, who IS this strange person?

In the decades since his untimely death at age 50 in 1982, the legacy of the vocalizing Canadian eye-roller, who proved himself to be a creative genius and forward-thinker in several fields, has flourished in books, films, memorial recordings, and much else. The Great Gould by fellow Canadian Peter Goddard is perhaps the latest in the line of Gould “scholarship,” albeit a title that’s idiosyncratic and quite personalized. Readers wanting a more linear, cradle-to-grave Gould biography will likely be better served by Kevin Bazzana’s 2004 Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, available at the Dallas Public Library here.

But anyone in the market for a more impressionistic view of the pianist’s story may find Goddard’s effort useful.

Goddard states early on that he is “interested in a different narrative of Glenn Gould … his role in the creation of Glenn Gould, media star, media manipulator, and Canadian intellectual icon.” The text is indeed very Canadian-slanted and the author seems to assume that readers will understand all his references to Far Northern people, places, and things. His content also skips from topic to topic; though Goddard pauses periodically to offer standard biographical information, he often interjects his own memories of the Gould Era while largely eschewing standard chronology.

Glenn Gould was born in Toronto in 1932, and his Canadian roots and identity infused his very being till the day of his premature passing. Pianistic connoisseurs know of his monumental LP albums; his sudden decision in 1964 to cease live concertizing in lieu of recording; his extreme hypochondria; his wondered-about sexual orientation (though we now know he was indeed straight, as per his long-time affair with Cornelia Foss, wife of composer Lukas Foss), and overall quixotic personality.

But thanks to Goddard, we also learn of Gould’s restless creativity and Renaissance-Man-interest in numerous topics above and beyond music. Gould was particularly fascinated by the technology of recorded sound, and became deeply engrossed in creating and engineering ahead-of-their-time radio programs for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. The vision emerging from this book is of an intellectually curious man with demonstrated artistic gifts, yet one always seeking additional non-musical challenges.

Consider The Great Gould an interesting supplement to the Glenn Gould craze still surrounding us. Patient readers will glean added insight into a unique, multi-faceted man.

 

 

Photo: Courtesy
Lucas Hnath

Hillary and Clinton

By Lucas Hnath

Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 2017

ISBN 9780822233855

110 pp.

This book is available at the Dallas Public LibraryCLICK HERE 

 

In 2008 New Hampshire, on another “Earth” far, far away, Hillary is running against the “Other Guy” for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination. She’s exhausted. “Guy” has offered her the Vice-Presidential slot on his ticket, so that’s food for thought. But her campaign manager also reports that money is tight, and that she needs to summon husband Bill, who “used to be President” and has since drifted a tad. When he arrives, we witness a relationship with twists, turns and frustrations, in which neither person acts as we might expect.

Hnath’s unique play received its world premiere at Chicago’s Victory Garden Theater in 2016. Dallas’s Second Thought Theatre’s production runs Jan. 10-Feb. 3.

 

 

Photo: Courtesy
Quiara Alegría Hudes

Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue

By Quiara Alegría Hudes

Theatre Communications Group, 2012

ISBN 9781559364379

72 pp.

This book is available at the Dallas Public LibraryCLICK HERE 

 

The Ortiz family of Philadelphia consists of Grandpop, a Korean War veteran; his son Pop, who served in Vietnam; and Pop’s boy Elliot, who is about to return to Iraq for a second tour of duty. And there is Ginny, Elliot’s mother, an Army nurse who’s experienced battle from a different perspective.

In this memory play, with solo monologues and scenes that circle around themselves like the textures of a Bach fugue, Hudes weaves a story of duty, family tradition, and painful national history. This work is the first in a trilogy by Hudes, who won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the series’ second entry, Water by the Spoonful. Elliot, a Pulitzer finalist, received its New York City premiere in 2016, and will be performed at Addison’s Water Tower Theatre from Jan. 26 through Feb. 18.

 

» Pages from the Arts appears on the second Wednesday of the month in TheaterJones. 

 

 

 PREVIOUSLY IN PAGES FROM THE ARTS 

  • February 2017: A Mary Martin biography, Joel Grey's autobiography, Jack Viertel's book about the structure of musicals, and a book about playwriting by T.J. Walsh of Trinity Shakespeare Festival
  • March 2017: A memoir from Broadway legend Barbara Cook, a history of the Bolshoi Ballet, and a helpful primer on classical music.
  • April 2017: Two biographies of legendary pianist Van Cliburn, namesake for the upcoming 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition; a story of African-American opera singer Ryan Speedo Green; a chronicle of a summer repertory production of Much Ado About Nothing; and gorgeous book (and CD) for musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
  • May 2017: A book about Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre, a portrait of how Venezuela's El Sistema became a model for publicy funded music education, and a biography of the late comedian Joan Rivers.
  • June 2017: Three memoirs from classical musicians: Andrea Avery's Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano; Min Kym's Gone: A Girl, A Violin, a Life Unstrung; and Marcia Butler's The Skin Above My Knee: A Memoir.
  • July 2017: Dominic Dromgoole's chronicle of taking the Globe Theatre's Hamlet to nearly 200 countries; a new biography of dance/choreoraphy legend Gene Kelly; and the script of Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat.
  • August 2017Biographies Sam Sephard and stage and screen actress Teresa Wright; and the script of David-Lindsay Abaire's Ripcord. 
  • September 2017:A biography of Sarah Vaughan, an informative journey through theatrical history, and the scrip of Martyna Majok's play Ironbound
  • October 2017: A biography of choreographer Katherine Dunham, a new book by acclaimed set designer David Hays, and the script of the play Application Pending
  • November 2017: A biography of singer Julie London, a history of the stand-up comedy club The Improv, and a look at Annie Baker's 2016 play John.
  • December 2017Memoirs by jazz musician Fred Hersch and coloratura soprano Charity Tillemann-Dick, and a biography of turn-of-the-20th-century actor M.B. Curtis.
 Thanks For Reading




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Pages from the Arts: January 2018
In this month's review of performing arts books, we look at new biographies of Anne Bancroft and Glenn Gould, plus scripts for Hillary and Clinton, and Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue.
by Cathy Ritchie

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Thing White Rabbit Red Rabbit Dallas Opera 2018 2019 Open Classicial Melinda Massie Piano Texas Mimir Festival 2018 Tonya and Nancy Mindfulness and Meditation Westside Story Trinity Shakespeare Festival 2018 Last Five Years The Cherry Orchard Stick Fly UNT Dance and Theatre Every Brilliant Thing White Rabbit Red Rabbit Dallas Opera 2018 2019 Open Classicial Melinda Massie Piano Texas Mimir Festival 2018 Tonya and Nancy Mindfulness and Meditation Westside Story Trinity Shakespeare Festival 2018 Last Five Years The Cherry Orchard Stick Fly UNT Dance and Theatre Every Brilliant Thing White Rabbit Red Rabbit Dallas Opera 2018 2019 Open Classicial Melinda Massie Piano Texas Mimir Festival 2018 Tonya and Nancy Mindfulness and Meditation Westside Story Trinity Shakespeare Festival 2018 Last Five Years The Cherry Orchard Stick Fly UNT Dance and Theatre Every Brilliant Thing White Rabbit Red Rabbit Dallas Opera 2018 2019 Open Classicial Melinda Massie Piano Texas Mimir Festival 2018 Tonya and Nancy Mindfulness and Meditation Westside Story Trinity Shakespeare Festival 2018 Last Five Years The Cherry Orchard Stick Fly UNT Dance and Theatre Every Brilliant Thing White Rabbit Red Rabbit Dallas Opera 2018 2019 Open Classicial Melinda Massie Piano Texas Mimir Festival 2018 Tonya and Nancy Mindfulness and Meditation Westside Story Trinity Shakespeare Festival 2018 Last Five Years The Cherry Orchard Stick Fly UNT Dance and Theatre Every Brilliant Thing White Rabbit Red Rabbit Dallas Opera 2018 2019 Open Classicial Melinda Massie Piano Texas Mimir Festival 2018 Tonya and Nancy Mindfulness and Meditation Westside Story Trinity Shakespeare Festival 2018 Last Five Years The Cherry Orchard Stick Fly UNT Dance and Theatre Every Brilliant Thing White Rabbit Red Rabbit Dallas Opera 2018 2019 Open Classicial Melinda Massie
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