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|A CurtainUp Book Review
Shoptalk: Conversations about Theater and Film with Twelve Writers, One Producer--and Tennessee Williams' Mother
By Elyse Sommer
Shoptalk is like a box of candy. The assortment of information-rich interviews are best savored one or two at a time. And speaking of time, while Dennis Brown wrote these pieces during the 1970s, their collected wit and wisdom is as fresh today as then.
Whether you're a writer eager for answers about your trade, as Brown was, or just receptive to the experiences and opinions of these winners of 11 Pulitzer Prizes and 8 Academy Awards, you'll find much to think about and enjoy in this small, easy-to-tuck-in-a-pocket volume. Since the author is a gifted listener, you'll not only learn much about and from his subjects, but about asking the kind of questions that lead to memorable conversations.
Only one of the playwrights interviewed, William Goldman, (Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy, etc.), never wrote specifically for the stage, though an early novel No Way to Treat a Lady, (published anonymously) was recently mounted as a not very spectacular musical at the York Theater in Saint Peter's Church (closing date: 1/19/97). The Goldman interview is paired with one of the most moving stories of a play that might have started an important career but didn't: The play was Johnny No-Trump. It was championed by William Goldman in his book The Season which in turn prompted Brown to pursue an interview with its author Mary Mercier. It's a cautionary tale, the sadder for being one example of many. As Brown states, it is less "a Broadway failure" than "a Broadway casualty."
Another intriguing paired interview is that of Tennessee Williams and his mother, Edwina Dakin Williams who we learn was not just the prototype of Amanada Wingfield in The Glas Menagerie but for Miss Alma in Summer and Smoke. Like many of the interviews this duo concludes with a favorite quote about the subject, in this case Marolon Brando on Tennessee:""if there are men who have a clean soul, he's one of them." Brown, ever willing to let other voices speak for him, simply adds a closing "Amen."
Two others whose talents migrated to Hollywood were Frank Gilroy and Jason Miller. Both writers reveal much about what it's like to always be identified with one major success. The Gilroy interview concludes with this 1991 quote in The New York Times at the time The Subject Was Roses, was revived at the Roundabout: "I'd like to walk into a room sometimes and be introduced as the author of something other than that play." Miller, who is also an actor and director, on the other hand, spent ten years championing the cause of a movie version of That Championship Season--and finally succeeded.
Obviously, a book like this is as notable for its omissions as its inclusions. While the imbalanced representation of the sexes is rather typical of theatrical anthologies, one would have wished this one had included at least a few which would have worked well in this series; Ntozake Shange, Gretchen Cryer and Adrienne Kennedy are a few of the names that sprang to mind. Shoptalk is available on line at our book store Shop Talk