Summer reading selections for theater-lovers

With the imminent reopening of Broadway, theater-lovers can get back into the mood and in the know with these suggestions for summer reading. From recent plays to an independent take-off on a new musical and a personal account of working at a blockbuster, there’s a wide selection of publications to keep you informed and to satisfy every taste.

Photo by Deb Miller.

Among the wealth of offerings from Theatre Communications Group (TCG) – North America’s largest independent trade publisher of dramatic literature, with eighteen Pulitzer Prizes for Drama on the TCG booklist – are the books of two very different pre-pandemic hits. One is told from a woman’s smartly considered personal perspective, the other in a laughable fictionalized account of a man’s midlife crisis.

A Tony Award nominee for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, writer and performer Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me, which opened at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater on March 31, 2019, traces the socio-historical impact of the founding principles of the United States on four generations of women in her family. Beginning at the age of fifteen, Schreck traveled the country to earn money for her college tuition by participating in constitutional debates, largely focused on the rights (or lack thereof) accorded women. The play traces her journey from teenage orator to adult professional, recounting her well-researched thoughts and restaging the contests from both sides. Informative stage directions convey Schreck’s intent to keep the audience connected to the presentation through its intended tone of spontaneity, including reactions to the current events on that day’s performance.

ISBN 9781559369640, Theatre Communications Group, February 9, 2021, 96 pages, paperback $15.95, ebook $12.99.

Another release from TCG is Tracy Letts’ male-menopause comedy Linda Vista, which also played at the Helen Hayes in 2019. The semi-autobiographical script is a sardonic exposé of toxic masculinity, as the 50-year-old recently divorced Wheeler, the epitome of fixated-adolescence and socio-romantic dysfunction, incessantly reveals his destructive misanthropy and infuriating misogyny with outrageous humor that will make you shake your head and hope for some much-needed self-awareness on the part of the self-described “loser.” Along with the hilarious rapid-fire barrage of one-liners and all-too-familiar testosterone-driven behavior come provocative thoughts on aging and relationships, and the hope that this seriously flawed character might finally grow up, or at least the prospective women in his life will have the good sense and self-respect to steer clear of him.

ISBN 9781559369718, Theatre Communications Group, September 29, 2020, 120 pages, paperback $15.95, ebook $12.99.

In addition to its publications, TCG Books’ First Fridays series features authors from its roster in conversation about their works on the first Friday of every month, livestreamed on the TCG Facebook page and YouTube channel.

If you’re looking forward to the pandemic-delayed opening of the new musical Six on Broadway, scheduled to return to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on September 17, you can get the imagined inside scoop from the six ill-fated wives of Henry VIII and their contemporaries in freelance writer, editor, and commentator Harriet Marsden’s sarcastic survival guide Don’t Lose Your Head (which is independent of and unaffiliated with the musical). The long-dead 16th-century Queens dish out comments and advice based on their experiences and era in current language, along with historical facts, anecdotes, and trivia from a decidedly 21st-century perspective. Present-day readers can gain insights from their hard-learned lessons under stifling Tudor traditions with the murderous King, to enlighten their own approaches to relationships and embracing of feminism. The mordant text is supplemented with a family tree, timeline, and portraits of the legendary women, to affirm its shocking basis in gruesome reality.

ISBN 978-1-64604-129-9, Ulysses Press, February 16, 2021, 192 pages, hardcover $16.95.

An uplifting message and positive attitude fill the pages of Mike Anthony’s intimate memoir of Life at Hamilton, chronicling his time and experiences working as a bartender at the Broadway production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s titular masterpiece, which will reopen at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on September 14. Relaying the camaraderie he shared with his co-workers, the graciousness of Miranda and the cast, the love and appreciation the audiences felt at being in “the room where it happens,” and his own kindness and generosity with the patrons provides just the right antidote for all the hardship and anxiety the theater community has faced over the past sixteen months of the COVID-19 shutdown. Though he moved to NYC to become an actor, rather than being angry or disappointed that he was behind the counter instead of on the stage, Anthony’s tone is one of gratitude to his parents for giving him the propensity to see what’s good, and to recognize, in his friendly familiar writing style, that what makes life life is not fame and fortune; true wealth is found in the connections you make.

ISBN 978-1-947637-57-3, Waterside Productions, November 30, 2021, 280 pages, paperback $14.95.

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