Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Rapt observation, intuition, and the ability to win nervy battles with playwrights are necessities in the theater director's toolkit, according to this exuberant memoir. O'Brien, former artistic director of San Diego's Old Globe Theater, follows up on Jack Be Nimble with more showbiz wisdom both practical--he explains how positioning and moving actors can make a joke land or a speech resonate--and mystical: "It is the play itself that appears to assert, like the natural flow of water, its own organic truth." At the book's heart is its depictions of collaborations and arguments with other theater artists, like the mercurial director Mike Nichols; the charismatic but prickly playwright Tom Stoppard ("It was as if... some idiot from the street wandered in and just vomited it out,'" was his verdict on Ethan Hawke's rendition of a Stoppard soliloquy); and the even pricklier Neil Simon ("I was lying at the bottom of Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum... with Neil's distorted face above me, the blade coming ever slower, ever lower," he writes of being fired by the playwright). There are swollen, clashing egos here, but O'Brien presents them sympathetically and treats the wrangling as a necessary part of the creative process. The result is an entertaining, colorful, generous panorama of the stage and its luminaries. Photos. (Nov.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
O'Brien, who has been directing plays and musicals since 1969 and has earned three Tony Awards and five Drama Desk Awards, looks back on his career to offer directing advice. O'Brien's legacy as an award-winning theater director was captured well in his 2014 memoir Jack Be Nimble. Here, O'Brien attempts to do something arguably more challenging: to explain the practical knack of directing, or at least the view from the director's chair. The result is less a handbook than series of lively stories to take readers "behind the curtain" of past productions both famous and infamous. Names of theater legends--"Neil" (Simon), "Andrew" (Lloyd Webber), "Tom" (Stoppard)--are ubiquitous across the book's 13 chapters, helping entertain as well as give stakes to the decisions, successes, and failures that drive O'Brien's candid directing advice. "Theater is no province for doing favors…. Friends are for the off-hours," he writes. O'Brien's lessons glitter brightly in their history and wisdom, but it is his warm, chatty writing that inevitably steals the show. VERDICT A delightful window into the art of directing in all its ups and downs. Recommended for anyone interested in the theater, and certainly aspiring directors.--Robin Chin Roemer
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
An eminent director looks back over 50 years of work in the American theater. Early on, O'Brien (b. 1939) admits, "I never took a single course in directing from any institution." Rather than a guidebook, he offers a "compendium of lessons learned and not learned" over his long, illustrious career. As artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego from 1981 through 2007, O'Brien was a key player in the national development of regional theater in the U.S. But his fundamental belief applies across venues and genres: The piece itself asserts "its own organic truth." Pedagogy aside, O'Brien gets down to his real subject: telling witty and often wise tales--mostly laudatory but some not--about his mentors, collaborators, and tormentors. Among the many boldfaced names in these pages are George Abbott, a "veritable colossus" of Broadway whose Damn Yankees O'Brien adapted; collaborators Stephen Sondheim and James Lapi Jerry Lewis, the "last avatar of an art form long gone from the annals of American stagecraft," vaudevil and playwright Neil Simon, who was chummy and intimate before becoming vindictive about his director's split loyalties. O'Brien offers a truly eye-raising account of the "other side" of Andrew Lloyd Webber from their work together on The Phantom of the Opera sequel, Love Never Dies. The author appreciates the genius of director Mike Nichols, and he provides an entertaining comparison of the working styles of John Goodman and Kevin Kline, both of whom O'Brien directed to greatness as Falstaff in Henry IV. O'Brien saves his highest praise for the great British playwright Tom Stoppard, a few of whose major plays he directed when they were performed in New York City. Stoppard seems a director's true dream, writing dazzling plays while remaining humble in his collaborations. The latter also applies to O'Brien, whose sheer list of credentials seems intimidating but whose interactions with other towering talents seem to have remained down-to-earth. With relatable, fluid stories, O'Brien effectively demystifies the art of directing. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.