HONKY TONK PARADE
US: Overlook Press, 2005; paperback, Overlook Press 2006
UK: Duckworth, 2006
Here is John Lahr-“the most intelligent and insightful writer on theatre today” (New York Times)-at his trenchant best, reinventing the celebrity profile. On the roster of greats who talk to Lahr with rare candor are: Bill Hicks, Dame Judi Dench, Ang Lee, Billy Connelly, Mira Nair,Baz Lurhmann, Tony Kushner, Laurence Fishburne and August Wilson, the only substantive profile of the late, great African American playwright.
“John Lahr is in my view the best drama critic and show-biz profile writer we have…Fourteen of these are reprinted here; the author himself calls them ‘mini biographies’ and he is not far wrong. If you are an actor or a dramatist or even a stand-up comic, don’t expect the usual hurried half hour or so in a bar. Having him write your profile must be not unlike adopting or marrying him; not content with just reporting a career, he has been known literally to move in on the life of its owner. The result is a piece which could only otherwise have been written by a close friend, relative or long-term guest. These profiles are psychological studies of quite chilling intensity and intimacy.
Because there exists no definitive chronicle of contemporary entertainment, Lahr’s profiles are the nearest we get to modern theatre history…What Lahr has is the key to the dressing room door: where else would you hear Barry Humphries discoursing on the legendary Polynesian art collection of the late Peggy Guggenheim? ‘Disgusting, my dear: all woden willies.’ “
Sheridan Morley, The Spectator
In Show and Tell, John Lahr reinvents the celebrity profile to get at the essence of performance. Lahr’s utterly winning and incisive profiles probe some of the most compelling, elusive, and irresistible public personas of our time, among them: Woody Allen, David Mamet, Ingmar Bergman, Frank Sinatra, Roseanne, Irving Berlin, Bob Hope, Mike Nichols, Wallace Shawn, Arthur Miller, and Neil LaBute. In these, and the moving autobiographical portraits of his father, Bert Lahr, who was the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, and his mother, a former Ziegfeld girl, Lahr charts the geography of fame.
Lahr’s gift is to get inside both the art and the artist, to show how the work and the life intersect. He has had unusual access to his subjects, who talk to him with rare candor. In prose “as lively as good conversation” (Robert Brustein), he arrives at truths of uncommon clarity, a claim seconded by Arthur Miller, who said that Lahr’s essay on him is “by far the best thing about my stuff I’ve ever read.” These very special profiles, the product of eight years’ work at The New Yorker, deepen our understanding of their subjects and the culture that they profoundly reflect. Show and Tell, like the icons whose lives and work it so meticulously chronicles, corrupts an audience with pleasure.
‘John Lahr’s love of theater, his knowledge, his intelligence, his lucid prose, are all exhilarating. Even when you disagree with him you are forced to reexamine the views you hold.’
‘These are wonderful portraits.’
‘There’s never been an American critic like John Lahr. His writing exalts, honors, and dignifies the profession and, more importantly, the art.’