edited and with commentary by Barry Paris; Knopf, 2012; 385 pages; $27.95.
Stella Adler, the actress who became who many believe to be the foremost acting teacher of the 20th century, co-founded The Group Theatre and trained actors such as Marlon Brando and Warren Beatty, Eva Marie Saint and Kyra Sedgwick. Part of their training was Adler’s series of lectures on prominent playwrights and their plays. Playwright and play were the only “texts” Adler believed essential.
Many inside and outside the acting profession have already embraced “Stella Adler on Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov.” “Stella Adler on America’s Master Playwrights,” the second collection of Adler’s lectures on plays and playwrights, has just been published and will certainly enjoy the same favor.
The book gathers Adler’s lectures on four indispensible American playwrights (Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Edward Albee) and four personal favorites (Thornton Wilder, Clifford Odets, William Saroyan and William Inge). She finds links among all of the eight, all the while emphasizing the importance of where the playwrights came from; whether Williams’ South or Miller’s New York, the actor understand the time and place of each author before attempting to “act” a role in his plays.
“Stella Adler on America’s Master Playwrights” is filled with such power and acute observation, all beautifully compiled and edited by Adler scholar Barry Paris. His commentary about individual plays and the photos of Adler, the playwrights, and the original productions of many of those plays are fine additions to the lectures. How extraordinary it must have been for those who attended the lectures of Stella Adler. How lucky the rest of us are to be in her company thanks to this new book.
Steven Whitton is a professor of English at Jacksonville State University.