CRITICISM

Light Fantastic: Adventures in TheatreLIGHT FANTASTIC
Adventures in Theatre
US: The Dial Press, 1996; Delta, 1997
UK: Bloomsbury, 1997; paperback, 1997

This first collection of John Lahr’s theatre writing from The New Yorker—for which he won his second George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism—draws on his skills as a biographer, theatre historian, and cultural commentator. “At the end of an essay, “ Lahr writes in his introduction, “I want the reader to know more about the even than just what I think about it.”

This philosophy has led Lahr to include in his theatrical discussions personal interviews, texts from diaries, letters, memoirs, and plays to reveal the world of theatre and the denizens who make it in an immediate contextural way. Through Lahr’s eyes, the work of such remarkable playwrights as Tennessee Williams, Tony Kushner, Arthur Miller, Alan Bennett, Clifford Odets, Oscar Wilde, and Tom Stoppard come vividly to life. Here to, Lahr explores the contradictions of Stephen Sondheim, the raw brilliance of Savion Glover’s tap dancing, the genius of George and Ira Gershwin, the joyful inventiveness of director George C. Wolfe, the caustic talent of comedian Bill Hicks.

“This is a beautiful, important book. Here is a funny, elegant, smart chronicler unashamed of his love for the art and for its artists. There are fantastic stories, brilliant insights, histories, and resurrections. Lahr’s book brought me a new and renewed appreciation of the complexity, humanity, and nobility of dramatic art.”
Tony Kushner

“I loved Light Fantastic. Mr. Lahr extends and enhances The New Yorker’s tradition of participatory criticism. He writes of the theatre with humour and insight, and not only with love, but with a beautiful sweetness.”
David Mamet

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AUTOMATIC VAUDEVILLE john lahrAUTOMATIC VAUDEVILLE
US: Knopf, 1984; paperback: Limelight Editions, 1985.
UK: William Heinemann, 1984; paperback: Metheun, 1985

Stephen Sondheim | Noel Coward | Sam Shephard | Lieber & Stooller Dame Edna Everage | Eugene O’Neill | Woody Allen | The Beatles | Joe Orton | Hog Heaven: Scenes from Dallas | Studs Terkel | Walt Whitman Hunter S. Thompson | Joan Didion | John Gregory Dunne | Notes on Fame

A brilliant collection of highly illuminating, lively, often polemical essays (two of which have received the ASCAPDeems Taylor Award) that speak about the theatre, about writing, about fame and notoriety, and about the men and women who spend their lives in the service of entertainment.

Included here are three brilliant extended essays on the inextricably linked works and lives of three playwrights: Noel Coward, whose seemingly frivolous, charming plays reflected both his own detachment from the world and his deep craving for affection… Eugene O’Neill, who turned to writing as an anodyne for the anxiety and pain of his own life and attempted to make peace with the present by confessing, in his work, the sins of his past …and Joe Orton, whose plays confronted the audience with facets of life they would have preferred to ignore, and whose own life confirmed his belief that “man is capable of every bestiality.”

There is a brilliant critique of the work of Stephen Sondheim that finds the dark side of the lyrics written by the “laureate of disillusion”… a paean to Leiber & Stoller, whose lyrics for such songs as “Yakety Yak,” “Poison Ivy,” and “Charlie Brown” “took our confusion and gave it back to us asjoy”…a study of Sam Shepard as both “bad boy” and artist… a re-examination of the Beatles’ music in light of the “crow’s feet and the other crenulations of age” that the author now sees in his mirror… an examination of the “mood of decline” displayed in the comedy of Woody Allen.

In a relentlessly acute essay called “Hog Heaven: Scenes from Dallas,” Lahr examines the city and finds in its “protean, schizophrenic personality” a symbol of the way contemporary America has distorted the ‘American Dream.” And further particularizing this observation, he looks at the writing of Studs Terkel, whose American Dream: Lost and Found seems to show that the Dream has become a trance… of Walt Whitman (he “promoted a cult of identity which, stripped of its spiritual trappings a century later, has its apotheosis in.. stardom”)… of Hunter Thompson, the “first wild man” of American journalism …ofJoan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, “the Luntsof the Los Angeles literary scene.” And finally, in a long, penetrating essay entitled “Notes on Fame,” he analyzes the ways in which the notion and facts of fame affect not only the famous but those who have made them so.

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ASTONISH MEASTONISH ME
Adventures in Contemporary Theatre
US: Viking, 1973

When Cocteau once asked Diaghilev what he could do for him in the realm of the theatre, Diahgilev replied ‘Astonish me’. It is this theatre of astonishment that is the focus of John Lahr’s second collection of theatrical essays. Dividing his book into “Pageants”, “Playwrights”, and “Performances”, Lahr writes vividly about Andre Gregory’s “Alice in Wonderland”, Luca Ronconi’s fabulous “Orlando Furioso”, Ariane Mnouchkine’s “1789”. Among the playwrights he analyzes are Neil Simon, Harold Pinter, Joe Orton, John Guare, Same Shepard, and Heathcote Williams. He also celebrates and dissects such varied performers as Comden & Green, Maurice Chevalier, and Muhammad Ali.

“The best young drama critic in the United States”
Studs Terkel

“An erudite, well-informed commentator of brilliance”.
Martin Esslin

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LIFE SHOWLIFE SHOW
US: Viking, 1973
Current paperback: Limelight Editions, 1989

John Lahr and Jonathan Price attempt a new kind of theatrical textbook which tries to show readers how to see theatre in life and life in theatre. The book itself is designed as a kind of theatrical event. Using more than 150 pictures within the text—a cross-cultural vision that ranges from Adolph Hitler to Abbie Hoffman, from Aristotle to Artaud—Life-Show dramatizes how deeply the impulse of play runs in our daily lives. The book provides a means of decoding what is authentic and inauthentic theatrical experience, both onstage and off.

Through we may not be regular theatre-goers or think of ourselves as actors, our existence is nonetheless theatrical. We “make a scene”, “play it cool”, “act up”, “do a number”. Our idiom for our life betrays our performing self. Acts of conscience, the pageants of state, gestures of rage, rituals of love—these signs and symbols of the stage world are al around us. The book argues that unless we know how to read them; they can overwhelm our lives and do damage to our image of ourselves.

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Up Against the Fourth WallUP AGAINST THE FOURTH WALL
US: Grove Press, 1970
UK: Penguin Books, 1971 (ACTING OUT AMERICA)

John Lahr’s first collection brings together two years of his writing on Evergreen Review, which earned him the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism—the youngest critic ever to be awarded the prize. The collection ranges over such important theatrical events as Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming”, Richard Schechner’s “Dionysus in ‘69”, Vaclav Havel’s “The Memorandum”, John Guare’s “Muzeeka”, Arthur Kopit’s “Indians”, Jean-Claude van Itallie’s “”America Hurrah”. He also chronicles the emergence and the aesthetic of such groups as The San Francisco Mime Troupe, El Teatro Campesino, the Living Theatre, the Open Theatre, the Performance Group, La Mama and the ghetto street theatre of Enrique Vargas.

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ACTING OUT AMERICAACTING OUT AMERICA
Penguin, 1973

“Acting Out America” is  the abridged English version of John Lahr’s first collection of essays, “Up Against the Forth Wall” which was written in the late sixties when he was the drama critic of Evergreen Review.  Lahr bridged a critical gap between the avant-garde experiments of Off-Broadway theatre and the mainstream. Here, he discusses the aims and achievements of The Living Theatre, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, Enrique Vargas’s ghetto street theatre, as well as the work of Edward Albee, Arthur Kopit, Jules Feiffer and other. “Because John Lahr is, above all a social critic,” one enthusiastic review in The Nation wrote, “his work reads like a series of essays on American social history which have as a common link an underlying interest in avant-garde theatrical movements.

“These essays add up to a valuable introduction to the contemporary American theatre.”
Martin Esslin, New York Times

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A CASEBOOK ON HAROLD PINTER'S 'THE HOMECOMINGA CASEBOOK ON HAROLD PINTER’S ‘THE HOMECOMING’
US: Grove Press, 1971
UK: Davis-Poynter, 1973

A study of Harold Pinter’s masterpiece which, besides nine critical essays about the enigmatic play,  includes interviews with the actors, the stage designer, and the director Peter Hall of the original masterly Royal Shakespeare Company production.

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