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Category: Theater

Albert Camus died on this day in 1960

AlbertcamusanthologyFrench writer and philosopher Albert Camus was killed in a car wreck 52 years ago today. The author was a passenger in a spots car that wrecked on slick streets en route to Paris from the South of France. In 2010, an Italian academic suggested the car had been sabotaged by Soviet spies, a claim that has been unconfirmed. In any event, Camus was killed instantly.

At the time, the story in the Los Angeles Times called Camus "one of the first of Europe's postwar 'angry young men.'" When he died at age 46, Camus' had already published the novels "The Stranger," "The Plague" and "The Fall," six plays, many short stories and the nonfiction work that explored his philosophical ideas. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

In his Nobel acceptance speech Camus said, "what has supported me through all my life, even in the most contrary circumstances: the idea that I have of my art and of the role of the writer.... Often he who has chosen the fate of the artist because he felt himself to be different soon realizes that he can maintain neither his art nor his difference unless he admits that he is like the others. The artist forges himself to the others, midway between the beauty he cannot do without and the community he cannot tear himself away from. That is why true artists scorn nothing: they are obliged to understand rather than to judge."

Three people survived the crash that killed Camus: Michel Gallimard, his wife and their daughter. Gallimard, who died of his injuries a few days later, was the nephew of Camus' publisher, Gaston Gallimard. Camus had been carrying the manuscript of a novel-in-progress with him; the pages were found in a briefcase that survived the wreck.

Camus' widow decided the book should not be published, but after she died his children undertook the project. It was published in 1995 in English as "The First Man."

"To read 'The First Man' is to visit a tomb and find that a spring is bubbling from it," Richard Eder wrote in our review. "It has a first-draft sappiness, perhaps, but the theme that underlies it -- the betrayal of the roots by the tree -- is authentic to Camus' life, his difficult choices and his writings."


C'est vrais? Camus was killed by the KGB?

The book "Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love"

Author, philosopher Denis Dutton dies

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: An Everyman's Library anthology of three books and selected essays by Camus.

New class of Whiting Award winners announced

Ten writers are each $50,000 richer thanks to the Whiting Foundation, which announced the winners of its 2011 awards Tuesday. This year, four poets, four fiction writers, one nonfiction writer and one playwright received the awards.

While many literary awards are for a single work or a body of completed work, the Whiting Awards are made to authors early in their careers who have demonstrated exceptional promise. Past recipients include Elif Batuman, Michael Cunningham, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Terrance Hayes, Yiyun Li, Tony Kushner and Los Angeles poet Douglas Kearney -- an impressive list.

The 2011 Whiting Foundation award winners are:

Scott Blackwood, fiction.  His novel "We Agreed to Meet Just Here" (New Issues Press) was published in 2009.

Ryan Call, fiction. His short story collection "The Weather Stations" (Caketrain) was published this year. 

Don Mee Choi, poetry. Her first collection, "The Morning News is Exciting" (Action Books) was published in 2010. She holds a bachelor of fine arts and a master of fine arts from the California Institute for the Arts.

Paul Clemens, nonfiction.  He is the author of "Made In Detroit" (Doubleday, 2005) and "Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant" (Doubleday, 2011).

Eduardo C. Corral, poetry.  His book "Slow Lightning" will be published by Yale University Press in 2012. 

Amy Herzog, plays. Her productions include "After the Revolution" and "4,000 Miles."  Her new play, "Belleville," opens this month at the Yale Repertory Theater.

Daniel Orozco, fiction. A collection of short stories, "Orientation" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), was published this year.

Shane McCrae, poetry.  His debut collection of poetry, "Mule" (Cleveland State University Press), was published this year by.

Teddy Wayne, fiction.  His first novel, "Kapitoil" (Harper Perennial), was published in 2010.

Kerri Webster, poetry.  Her first book, "We Do Not Eat Our Hearts Alone" (University of Georgia Press), was published in 2005.

The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation was established in 1963 by Flora E. Whiting. The Whiting writers awards were established in 1985, and the foundation has now given more than $6 million to support creative writing.


Whiting Award winners announced (2010)

Substantial Whiting Awards given to 10 up-and-coming writers

Douglas Kearney says winning a Whiting Writers' Award is a fresh start

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos, top row from left: Paul Clemens, Don Mee Choi, Daniel Orozco. Lower row, from left: Shane McCrae, Kerri Webster, Teddy Wayne. Credit: Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation

John Grisham's Theodore Boone to hold court at Glendora, Geffen

TheodoreBoonebustourJohn Grisham's 12-year-old kid lawyer, Theodore Boone, will take the stage in two local appearances in early November with the original theater production "Theodore Boone & the Thrill of Rights."

Unlike Grisham's "Theodore Boone" bestsellers, which have the title character working behind the scenes to bring justice, the children's theater show brings Boone himself to trial for stealing the U.S. Bill of Rights, which has been discovered in his backpack.

"What happens is we stage a theft of the Bill of Rights, and the entire audience witnesses it," said Lee Overtree, director of the play and artistic director of the Story Pirates theater group performing it. Boone is caught with the Bill of Rights, arrested and put on trial.

The cast includes only four actors, including the lead, who isn't 12 but twentysomething. Kids from the audience are brought on stage as witnesses and interrogated by a prosector Overtree describes as "arrogant, crazy, Foghorn Leghorn-sounding." A second group of kids is pulled from the crowd to serve as jurors and to render a verdict on Boone, who serves as his own lawyer.

In 55 performances of the show earlier this fall, Boone has been found innocent 54 times. "There was a hung jury at a Montessori School in Birmingham, Ala.," Overtree said. 

Grisham's only involvement in the play was approving the script.

"Theodore Boone & the Thrill of Rights" will be performed at the Glendora Public Library in Glendora on Nov. 4 at 4 p.m., and at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles on Nov. 5 at 11 a.m.  


"The Confession" book review

'Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer' book review

—  Susan Carpenter

Photo: The cast of "Theodore Boone & the Thrill of Rights." Credit: Story Pirates

Yale to launch $150,000 writing award

Lostfriendships Yale has announced that it will present a new award to creative writers, the Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes. With a one-time award of $150,000, the prizes will be among the most significant offered for creative writing.

The MacArthur Fellowships, commonly known as "Genius" grants, are for a greater amount -- $500,000 -- but are paid out in installments over a five-year period.

The N.Y. Times reports that Windham, who died in 2010, lived modestly but left an estate significant enough to fund about a million dollars in grants each year. Seven to nine creative writing grants will be awarded annually, to writers of fiction, nonfiction and plays (poetry may be included later).

There will not be an open application process for the awards, which are intended to go to both emerging and established writers. A steering committee will solicit nominations, and a panel of judges will select the winners. Windham, who was born in Atlanta and never attended college, requested that those judging the prizes consider writers with no academic affiliation.

Windham's affiliation with Yale was fostered by a gift he made to the university of his collected papers. Although he wrote fiction and collaborated with Tennessee Williams, his memoirs of the New York literati may be his most lasting work -- particularly "Lost Friendships: Memoir of Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams & Others."

Like Williams and Capote, Windham was gay. He and his partner Sandy M. Campbell, for whom the prize is also named, were together for 45 years; Campbell died in 1988.

Yale expects that the first Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes will be announced in late 2012 or early 2013.

-- Carolyn Kellogg


Hollywood celebrates David Foster Wallace's 'The Pale King'


On April 28, Hollywood actors will take the stage to celebrate David Foster Wallace's novel "The Pale King" at the Saban Theater, benefiting PEN Center USA. "The Pale King" was left behind, in fragments, when Wallace died in 2008; since he can't tour to support his posthumous work, there have been readings across the country by other authors. In L.A., we get to see performers bring Wallace's work to life.

Stars on the bill for "The Pale King" event include: Megan Mullally ("Will and Grace"), Josh Radnor ("How I Met Your Mother"), Rene Auberjonois ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"), Ron Livingston ("Office Space"), Adam Scott ("Party Down"), Nick Offerman ("Parks and Recreation"), Rosemarie DeWitt ("United States of Tara"), Casey Wilson ("Happy Endings"), Brian Elerding ("Mad Men"), Michelle Azar ("Monk") and comedian Rob Delaney. And also punker-spoken-word-artist-turned-KCRW radio host Henry Rollins.

Wallace's longtime agent Bonnie Nadell and L.A. Times book critic David L. Ulin are also on the bill.

The event kicks off with a cocktail reception in the Saban Theater's lovely rotunda. Tickets are $65, which includes a copy of "The Pale King," or $25 if you already purchased a copy.

Some people probably have; the unfinished novel, which focuses on a number of people working in the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Ill., was officially released April 15, tax day.

For those David Foster Wallace completists, I should point out that KCRW's Michael Silverblatt hosted a show about "The Pale King" with writer and friend Rick Moody and writer David Lipsky, whose chronicle of his road trip with Wallace was published in Rolling Stone and expanded to the book "Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself." Silverblatt engaged with Wallace's work over several years; his archived interviews with the author about his various works are still online: "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men" "Consider the Lobster," and, of course, "Infinite Jest."

Those books and others from Wallace's backlist will be for sale at the event. Tickets are available from the Saban Theater box office and Ticketmaster.


Book review: "The Pale King" by David Foster Wallace

Time says "The Pale King" represents David Foster Wallace's "finest work"

David Foster Wallace's Kenyon commencement speech

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: David Foster Wallace in 2002. Credit: Keith Bedford / Getty Images


Worth It: 'An Improvised Life: A Memoir' by Alan Arkin

Is there anything more insufferable than listening to self-absorbed, lavishly paid actors blathering on about (insert affected accent here) the Actor’s Craft? It's like a bad “Saturday Night Live” send-up of Bravo's “In the Actor’s Studio," with Strasberg this and method that, and oh the trials and travails of staying in character.

So you might be inclined to roll your eyes and walk on by Alan Arkin’s new memoir, “An Improvised Life.” But then you’d miss a charming little book that throws open the door to improvisational theater, inviting us all to engage in a little “make believe.”

Arkin, 77, is well-known for a rich theater and film career dating to 1966’s “The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming” that  includes three Oscar nominations and one win, for the 2006 film “Little Miss Sunshine.” He’s less well-known for his traveling improvisational workshops, which are aimed at actors as well as anyone feeling creatively “blocked” or stuck in a rut.

Improvisation is where Arkins feels most alive and a state that he’s spent his entire life chasing, starting when he was 5 and declared he was going to become an actor -- it's the heart of the book. Arkin spent much of his life desperately trying to be someone, anyone, other than himself. He wasn’t driven by any particular trauma. He just didn't understand how to live in his own skin. So it was easier to become someone else, to mimic someone’s else’s walk or talk or manners or motivation. “[O]utside my life as an actor I had almost no life at all,” he says.

After decades spent seeking answers -- therapy, a foray into Eastern philosophies, questions about past lives, meditation -- he makes the conscious decision to sidestep the “cacophony of egos” and perfectionist tendencies exerting control over his life. Instead of becoming frustrated with the struggle to “find” his character in a new role, he decides to embrace that struggle and allow it to guide him.

Continue reading »

'Selected Shorts' at the Getty, starring Tim Curry

On Saturday, Tim Curry captivated the sold-out crowd at the Getty as he read Stephen O'Connor's story "Ziggurat." It was part of the three-program "Selected Shorts" series at the Getty, run by New York's Symphony Space. Selected Shorts pairs actors with short fiction for readings that are funny, strange, sad and, at the Getty, well attended.

This was the 19th year of "Selected Shorts" at the Getty, and the $30 tickets included a wine and food pairing after the readings, which were loosely grouped under the umbrella "Delicious Fictions." Each of the three programs featured different stories and actors, including regular readers Leonard Nimoy and Christina Pickles and first-timer Tim Curry. New to the program, that is, not new to the stage -- he's been nominated for three Tony Awards, most recently for playing King Arthur in "Monty Python's Spamalot."

An actor of Curry's caliber can take a story like O'Connor's -- a long fairy tale with a terrifying Minotaur and a video game-playing ingenue he calls New Girl -- and give it a shape an author's reading rarely can. With most of the reading inflected by Curry's British accent, his switch to flat affect for the New Girl, a spacey Rolling Rock-drinking American with a propensity for saying "Wow," often drew laughs. The fit of the story into the program, which mostly consisted of the Minotaur's habit of eating humans and an occasional dog -- went from grotesque to exquisite, with Curry rumbling, "mmm, mmmm, tasty." 

"Selected Shorts" founder Isaiah Sheffer read T.C. Boyle's "Rapture of the Deep," a funny story of Jacques Cousteau's chef driven to mutiny by having to serve fish one too many times. Before the reading, Boyle, who was in the audience with his wife, wondered how Sheffer would fare with the French accents -- très bon, as it turns out: Sheffer can do a very good Costeau impression.

The day opened with "Customer Service at the Karaoke Don Quixote," a funny short short by Juan Martinez, a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The story is narrated by the Karaoke Don Quixote host, who admits he has a "bad accent on purpose," which actor Nate Corddry ("Harry's Law") interpreted as an impossible combination of Russian and Spanish. "It was fantastic," Martinez said after the reading. "It was exactly what I expected."

That all three authors attended the Saturday reading was unusual for "Selected Shorts." The other programs, on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, included stories by Dorothy Parker, John Cheever and Raymond Carver, authors who are no longer able to enjoy food, drink and the pleasures of hearing their works read by actors. But their delicious fictions live on.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Stephen O'Connor and Tim Curry. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times

In our pages: Judi Dench's disappointing memoir

Judidench_furthermoreJudi Dench, who has won one Oscar and been nominated for five more and racked up too many stage acting awards to count, has penned a new memoir, "And Furthermore." It's designed to fill in some gaps left by a perfectly acceptable biography published in 1998 -- John Miller's  "Judi Dench: With a Crack in Her Voice."

In our review, Jessica Gelt writes:

Unfortunately those gaps are filled with encyclopedic detail about every production Dench has worked on, accompanied by lists of names of the many actors she has worked with. As a result "And Furthermore" fails to hang its prop hat on anything resembling Dench's inner life or emotions. For fans of Dench, this is disappointing, especially since the actress is famous for taking her audience on rich emotional journeys with her work.

For example, even though the book is dedicated to Dench's daughter, Finty, and her grandson, Sammy, very little about Finty is mentioned aside from the fact that she was born. Sammy is not mentioned once, although he does appear in several of the wonderful photos that pepper the book and are drawn from Dench's personal files....

Clearly her family was extremely close and quite unique. But in "And Furthermore" Dench dedicates two milquetoast paragraphs to her father's death before she is off to Chapter 4, titled, "Exciting Times at Nottingham and Oxford."

From an actress who brings such emotional depth to her roles, Gelt writes, readers can't help but hope for a little more on the page. Instead, her personal life is passed over for professional one. Read the complete review of Judi Dench's "And Furthermore" here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Bookstore of the week: Samuel French in Hollywood

Samuelfrench_1Samuel French is the place to go for plays. Sure, it's a bricks-and-mortar bookstore with two locations in Southern California -- Jacket Copy visited this one, on Sunset Boulevard at Stanley Avenue -- and it also is, as staffer Gwen Feldman rattles off with practice, "the world's oldest, largest publisher of plays."


The Samuel French company has been publishing plays since 1830. There was an actual Samuel French, an American who started his business in this country, then moved to England. The first L.A. Samuel French store was founded in 1929 in downtown; it moved to the current Hollywood location in 1947.


In addition to plays, Samuel French carries many books in hardcover and paperback. Biographies of entertainment figures are among those found near the front of the store. Farther toward the back, there are many in-demand books about moviemaking -- how to write, how to perform, and of course, how to direct.

Continue reading »

Alan Arkin's funny book trailer

There are few book trailers that measure up to the trailers we see for films. But one way to try to assure a book trailer will be as good as one from Hollywood is to put a Hollywood star in it. Not so easy, maybe, unless the author himself happens to have won an Academy Award.

As has Alan Arkin. Arkin won the best supporting actor Oscar in 2007 for his role in "Little Miss Sunshine." And his performing career stretches way back -- not only was he an Oscar nominee in 1967 and '68, but in earlier years he was a songwriter and a founder of the comedy improv troupe Second City.

That's what "An Improvised Life," his new book, is about, he explains in the trailer above. The book is due on shelves March 1, and can be ordered online now.

-- Carolyn Kellogg


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