Stella Adler on America's Master Playwrights
Eugene O'Neill, Thornton Wilder, Clifford Odets, William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee
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About the author
STELLA ADLER began her life on the stage at the age of five in a production that starred her father, the legendary actor of the Yiddish Theatre, Jacob Adler. Stella Adler was one of the co-founders of the revolutionary Group Theatre. In 1934, she met and studied with Konstantin Stanislavski and began to give acting classes for other members of the Group, including Sanford Meisner and Elia Kazan. Adler established the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting in 1949 and taught at Yale University.
BARRY PARIS is the author of biographies of Louise Brooks and Greta Garbo.
In her long-awaited book, the legendary acting teacher Stella Adler gives us her extraordinary insights into the work of Henrik Ibsen (“The creation of the modern theater took a genius like Ibsen . . . Miller and Odets, Inge and O’Neill, Williams and Shaw, swallowed the whole of him”), August Strindberg (“He understood and predicted the forces that would break in our lives”), and Anton Chekhov (“Chekhov doesn’t want a play, he wants what happened in life. In life, people don’t usually kill each other. They talk”).
Through the plays of these masters, Adler discusses the arts of playwriting and script interpretation (“There are two aspects of the theater. One belongs to the author and the other to the actor. The actor thinks it all belongs to the author . . . The curtain goes up and all he knows are the lines . . . It is not enough . . . Script interpretation is your profession”).
She looks into aspects of society and class, and into our cultural past, as well as the evolution of the modern spirit (“The actor learns from Ibsen what is modern in the modern theater. There are no villains, no heroes. Ibsen understands, more than anything, there is more than one truth”).
Stella Adler—daughter of Jacob Adler, who was universally acknowledged to be the greatest actor of the Yiddish theater, and herself a disciple of Stanislavsky—examines the role of the actor and brings to life the plays from which all modern theater derives: Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder, An Enemy of the People, and A Doll’s House; Strindberg’s Miss Julie and The Father; Chekhov’s The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and Three Sisters (“Masha is the sister who is the mystery. You cannot reach her. You cannot reach the artist. There is no logical way. Keep her in a special pocket of feelings that are complex and different”).
Adler discusses the ideas behind these plays and explores the world of the playwrights and the history—both familial and cultural—that informed their work. She illumines not only the dramatic essence of each play but its subtext as well, continually asking questions that deepen one’s understanding of the work and of the human spirit.
Adler’s book, brilliantly edited by Barry Paris, puts her famous lectures into print for the first time.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
; August 2012
368 pages; ISBN 9780307800428
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Title: Stella Adler on America's Master Playwrights
Author: Stella Adler; Barry Paris
In the press
“Intoxicating . . . Paris has done a magnificent job. . . Most exhilarating is that the book brings back the sound of Stella’s unique voice and thought processes, as well as her own particular vision . . . Every sentence is a treasure.
[The book is] about so much more than simply bringing to life the work of major artists; it is really the expression of a way of life, and of looking at art as something larger than life.
Stella had a marvelous way of mixing erudition with down-to-earth realities, show business know-how with a few Yiddishisms, all combined with a vivid sense of what she called a theater of ‘heightened reality’. . . . this book brings her voice back quite viscerally. It’s Stella talking, taking you on her particular roller-coaster ride through the playwrights and their characters, with an occasional anecdote or comment about her most famous student, Marlon Brando.
For actors and actresses this rich material is essential. For those interested in the American theater, it is a must. For cultured people everywhere, this book belongs in their personal canon.”
—Peter Bogdanovich, The New York Times Book Review
“Stella was a first-name force of nature . . . grand . . . There is considerable entertainment in the energy of her assertions . . . And then there is the staggering clarity, the piercing insight and the pure, undeniable genius of her dissection of the plays themselves . . . Refreshingly, Adler's perceptivity extends to the political and social potential in our family-drama dominated canon.”
—Washington Independent Book Review
“Adler was known as a presence of divine proportions, a tall, glamorous woman whose grand gestures and dramatic one-liners captivated audiences both large and small.”
—Cultural Compass, University of Texas at Austin
“[A] modern-day oracle . . . life through the prism of the play . . . Stella Adler was an incendiary force of nature.”
“Incisive . . . If you’re interested in what it means to translate O’Neill, Odets, Williams, Miller and Albee from the page to the stage, read it carefully.”
“Wisely balances masterpieces with minor works . . . Paris has performed a great service by presenting Adler’s astute perspectives about these writers, whom she knew and admired. Her views are valuable not only for actors, but for anyone interested in the American theatre and its extraordinary achievements.”
—Bay Area Reporter
“A grande dame of the American theater . . . Adler’s voice pops into life on the pages . . . a valuable guidebook . . . illuminating for actors and lay readers alike . . . fascinating . . . often hilarious [and] sprinkled with a fair bit of dish . . . Adler knows these plays the way a master violist knows her instrument.”
—The Boston Globe
“Even on the page, Stella Adler projects to the back of the house. It is indeed the voice of a giant . . . vivid . . . as vibrant an impression as I’ve come across of the social and artistic chaos in which American playwrights of the early 20th century found themselves . . . [Adler’s book] provides invaluable insights . . . and erupts into sustained verbal fireworks as you’ve never heard elsewhere.”
—Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“Passionate, opinionated, and consummately dramatic, Stella Adler’s voice and personality come through in every word . . . filled with insight, wit, and fervor . . . a lively and fascinating look into the beliefs and methods of the late teacher, who, twenty years after her death, is still regarded as one of the greatest in the history of American theater.”
“For more than forty years, the lefty theatrical dynamo and acting teacher Stella Adler worked to bring a greater understanding of the human condition to the American stage. Her primary tools were her pleasure in the text and her often firsthand knowledge of the playwrights’ lives. [This] is an essential text . . . Adler’s perceptive humor sheds fresh perspective on masters ranging from O’Neill to Albee.”
—Hilton Als, The New Yorker
“Arguably America’s preeminent acting teacher . . . Adler’s voice comes through loud and clear . . . Actors, acting students, and serious theater fans will savor the insight and inspiration served up here.”
“Essential reading for the actor as well as a bracingly original introduction (or refresher) for the general reader . . . Nearly every page shimmers with Adler’s bounding personality and discerning grasp of her subjects.”
“Brilliant . . . The indomitable Stella Adler . . . displays both her omnivorous intellect and decades of experience in this generous second volume . . . An exciting, inspiring and essential book.”
—Kirkus (starred review)
“We usually go to scholars, dramaturgs, and critics for detailed analyses of the modern American theatre. Well, forget that! Here in this amazing book is Stella Adler in full and insightful bloom, preaching, exhorting, insulting, provoking, and always helping her many acting students. Through character study and scene breakdown within a specific play, she manages to give us a personal tour of the times and lives of the 20th Century’s most illustrious playwrights. She knew them, she knew the world they lived in, and she remembers EVERYTHING!
A brilliant book.”
—Andre Bishop, Lincoln Center Theater