Robert Brustein is a playwright, director, critic, teacher, founder of the Yale Repertory and American Repertory Theatres, and currently Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Suffolk University. His latest book is Winter Passages.
 (December 2014)

Fiddle Shtick

Maria Karnilova and Zero Mostel in the original Broadway production of <i>Fiddler on the Roof</i>, 1964
Fiddler on the Roof, which opened fifty years ago and had 3,242 performances, was the longest-running musical in Broadway history. We now have not one but two books about it—Alisa Solomon’s Wonder of Wonders and Barbara Isenberg’s Tradition! We can anticipate numerous revivals in professional theaters, schools, and summer camps.

On Stage Near Shanghai

A scene from Stan Lai’s Chinese-language play <i>A Dream Like a Dream</i>, performed at the Wuzhen Theatre Festival in April
Last May, my wife and I traveled to China in order to spend two weeks at the international Wuzhen Theatre Festival. I had previously been appointed honorary chairman of the event, which also included among its presentations the final play in my Shakespeare trilogy. 2013 is the festival’s inaugural year, …

From Brecht to Broadway

Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, circa 1940s
Love Song: The Lives of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya is the title Ethan Mordden gives to his new work on these two major twentieth-century musical artists. But the relationship between Weill and Lenya was less a feverish romance than a very practical partnership, not so much a tender love …

A Prince of the Palefaces

Thornton Wilder at the age of nine or ten, Berkeley, California, circa 1906–1907
Thornton Niven Wilder, author of seven novels and nine plays, was born in 1897 in Madison, Wisconsin, the grandson of a Presbyterian clergyman, and the son of a government diplomat who later became a newspaper editor. Best known for Our Town, a homespun story of domestic life in a small …

Living Theater

In his introduction to Jan Kott’s new collection of essays, The Theater of Essence, Martin Esslin calls him a vestige of a vanishing intellectual class: the guardian of culture and homme de lettres. It is a surprising way to characterize a maverick who turned Shakespeare into an anti-Stalinist and read …

Ciao! Manhattan

In what is left of the old community of New York intellectuals, we find writers trying to reconstruct and validate their pasts, while retaliating for old injuries and making conflicting claims about the intellectual disputes of the last few decades. Norman Podhoretz’s Breaking Ranks and William Barrett’s The Truants both …

Castles in the Mud

With the publication of two excellent books, the tortured Swedish dramatist is at last becoming the subject of thoughtful, comprehensive attention. Encouraged by Strindberg himself, who called his work an exorcistic “poem of desperation,” previous critics (myself included) have been more inclined to describe his fascinating pathology than to admire …

Golden Boy

Years before he died in 1963 at the age of fifty-seven, Clifford Odets had assumed a symbolic importance greater than his position as a writer. Calling himself “the foremost playwright manqué of all time,” he allowed, perhaps even encouraged, a myth to evolve which identified him as an artist of …

Brecht in Asphalt

Bertolt Brecht experienced at least two different Americas in his lifetime—the one provided him with images, the other fired his rage. As a young man in Berlin, writing his early poems and plays, Brecht used America as the chief stimulant of his urban imagination—a dream country, a phantom nation, a …

Monkey Business

As a benefit for itself, the Theatre for Ideas, a private group which arranges symposiums on a variety of subjects, organized last month a symposium called Theatre or Therapy. In the expectation of a large turnout, the group hired a former Friends’ Meeting House near Gramercy Park, now preserved as …

The Third Theater Revisited

In the middle Sixties I wrote an essay saluting a new theater that was just beginning to evolve in opposition to the existing theater on Broadway and in the culture centers. At the time, the “third theater” as I called it, was a fringe movement whose continued survival was as …

La Dolce Spumoni

Federico Fellini told an interviewer recently that he was trying to make his films approach the condition of poetry, but it is not the poet’s art he employs in Juliet of the Spirits so much as the confectioner’s. Fellini’s latest work is a huge helping of Italian ice cream, covered …

Confessions of a Play Reviewer

The American theater, always in decline, seems today to be at one of its lowest ebbs. But this could be deceptive. The last six years, so apparently barren of vital dramatic activity, may have involuntarily nourished the seeds of new theatrical promise. Is it conceivable that these may eventually blossom? …

Everybody Knows My Name

Of all the superfluous non-books being published this winter for the Christmas luxury trade, there is none more demoralizingly significant than a monster volume called Nothing Personal. Manufactured in Switzerland by a special process, boxed and unpaginated, set between snow-white covers with sterling silver titles, and measuring eleven by fourteen …

No Popcorn

There is a scene in Luis Bunuel’s early surrealist movie, L’Age d’Or—a violent spoof of society and religion that was recently shown at the Second New York Film Festival as a breather between the art films—that seems to me to capture admirably the tone of the Festival itself. It shows …