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Kenneth Turan to discuss New York's Public Theater on KCRW

March 30, 2010 |  3:12 pm

Freeforall His day job is film critic for the Los Angeles Times, but Kenneth Turan is also well-immersed in the downtown New York theater scene. His book "Free for All: Joe Papp, the Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told" was published in November.

On Wednesday, Turan will make an appearance on KCRW-FM's (89.9) "The Treatment" to discuss his book and why it took more than 20 years for it to see the light of day. The hefty volume, which weighs in at close to 600 pages, offers an oral history of one of New York's most prestigious theatrical institutions -- the Public Theater located in Greenwich Village -- and its temperamental founder, Joseph Papp.

The Public under Papp championed theater for the masses, making productions accessible to neighborhoods throughout New York. The organization also managed to produce Broadway blockbusters like "A Chorus Line" and "Hair."

As Doubleday, the book's publisher, has stated, Turan was brought on board by Papp during the '80s to write an oral history of the Public and the New York Shakespeare Festival. But Papp ended up blocking the book's publication after reading a manuscript. The director was said to be unhappy with the unflattering way in which some of the book's interviewees described him.

Turan eventually revised the text with permission from the director's widow, Gail Merrifield Papp, but the volume still contains chapters devoted to recounting the behind-the-scenes travails of rocky productions like Sam Shepard's "True West."

Turan's book includes interviews with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Colleen Dewhurst and other people whose careers received a boost from Papp. Altogether, the author conducted close to 160 interviews for the book.

A Times reviewer wrote that "Turan captures virtually every exciting moment of [the Public's] transformation in the words of the creative and passionate people who lived the adventure with [Papp]."

"The Treatment" is scheduled to air Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.

-- David Ng

Credit: Doubleday