With the arrival of daylight savings and spring just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to grab a book, head out to the park, and catch up on your readings on theater and the performing arts. Recent releases offer something for everyone of any age, from an illustrated children’s book about a budding ballerina to the latest play by a Pulitzer Prize winner and an acclaimed director’s ruminations on language.
Seven Summer Situations: That Were Not My Fault! – The second in Nancy Paris’s “supercute” semi-autobiographical children’s book series, The Adventures of Lilly Nilly, follows the misadventures of the now seven-year-old ballet student over her summer vacation from school and dance studio, when the inquisitive fun-loving girl had time to take on exciting new escapades that would quickly become messy “situations.” Whatever. And even though they weren’t exactly her fault, for some reason she got into trouble anyway. People! Except for the time she and her friend Willy almost set the house on fire making cheesy puff pastry bites. At least now that she’ll be starting second grade and she’s way closer to being a grown-up, she could put together seven good rules to help other kids get through kindergarten and first grade. You’re welcome.
Inspired by the author/illustrator’s own real-life childhood experiences with family and friends as a dance student (who would go on to become a professional ballerina, choreographer, and teacher), the writing is so cleverly in tune with a child’s rambunctious behavior, thought process, and speech pattern that you can actually hear the irrepressible Lilly telling her story as you read it, and come to life as you look at her adorable spot-on pictures. No matter what your age, you will surely laugh and learn from this thoroughly delightful character, her colorful growing pains, and her intrepid attitude.
Nancy Paris, Seven Summer Situations: That Were Not My Fault!, Middletown, DE, Nencil the Pencil LLC, November 2022, ISBN-13: 979-8218101862, paperback, 47 pages, $12.99.
Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven – In his most recent play, which made its pre-pandemic debut Off-Broadway with Atlantic Theatre Company in 2019, and was published in paperback format this winter by Theater Communications Group (TCG), Stephen Adly Guirgis explores the backgrounds, experiences, interactions, and struggles of eighteen residents, mostly people of color, of a women’s halfway house in the Bronx, faced with funding cuts from the city. As they deal with issues of criminal history, mental illness, addiction, abandonment, abuse, identity, and more, they attend daily therapy sessions, bond and fight, fall in love, and face the reality of their status as social outcasts, over whom the threat of homelessness looms large.
A lifelong New Yorker, the playwright (who was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Between Riverside and Crazy, which just ended its limited Broadway engagement at the Hayes Theater last month), unerringly captures the vernacular and profanity of the streets in his realistic, humorous, and heartrending dialogue, and exposes the humanity of the deeply troubled figures and their harrowing lives with insight and empathy, in his signature combination of comedy and drama. After getting to know Guirgis’s protagonists through his masterful writing, the ending comes as a gut-punch that will resonate every time you hear those all-too-familiar words spoken in real life, on the sidewalks of New York.
Stephen Adly Guirgis, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven, New York, Theatre Communications Group, December 2022, ISBN: 978-1-559369-89-3, paperback, 120 pages, $16.95, e-book, $13.99.
Tip of the Tongue: Reflections on Language and Meaning – Originally published in the UK by Nick Hern Books in 2017, the US edition of this personal rumination on the significance of words by internationally renowned multiple award-winning director Peter Brook (21 March 1925-2 July 2022) was just released in January by Hern’s NYC partner publisher TCG. Arranged in the format of three parts comprised of nine short essays – three of which Brook (born, bred, and active in England, then based in France since the 1970s) had delivered as public lectures – the book is part of the author’s Reflections trilogy, along with The Quality of Mercy (on Shakespeare) and Playing by Ear (on sound and music).
The weighty topics Brook considers in his thoughtful observations are the linguistic differences between French and English and how the essence of intended meaning is subtly altered in translation; a radical re-examination of the purpose and changing intent of theater through the course of his career and in the concepts of empty space and silence; and the richness and complexity of the works of Shakespeare – among Brooks’ outstanding achievements as a director were his productions of Titus Andronicus with Laurence Olivier (1955), King Lear with Paul Scofield (1962), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Royal Shakespeare Company (1970) – as a mirror of the many aspects and levels of the human condition. All are punctuated with stories of his own illuminating experiences from his long illustrious career.
Peter Brook, Tip of the Tongue: Reflections on Language and Meaning, New York, Theatre Communications Group, January 2023, ISBN: 978-1-636701-77-6, paperback, 104 pages, $16.95.