Cofounder in the 1930s of the Group Theater and best known later as the formidable force behind the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting, Adler was an articulate, opinionated, intellectually gifted member of the profession, as these talks on Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov attest. Culled from a lifetime of lectures and edited into rough essay form by Barry Paris, they exhaustively examine the major works of those three seminal modern playwrights. They are not academic exercises, for Adler's goal was to show her acting students how to break down those intimidating plays into easily digestible parts, the better to bring them to life onstage. Adler's microscopic dissection of a role like that of Nora in A Doll's House
is fascinating. Unfortunately, her close, complete reading has a downside in this book--repetitiveness. Furthermore, not even Paris' expertise disguises the fact that these pieces were originally spoken. Digression and repetition may be helpful in a classroom lecture but are not as forceful on the page as a lean, careful essay would be. Sadly, this is all she "wrote." Jack Helbig
From Kirkus Reviews
The late acting teachers legendary lectures on script interpretation lose something when transposed to the printed page, though they still make a fine introduction to modern drama and the acting style it requires. Like Moscow Art Theatre director Konstantin Stanislavsky, with whom she studied, and like her fellow members of the Group Theatre, which popularized his revolutionary acting technique in America, Adler (190192) stresses the actors role as servant to the playwright. Ibsen and his successors created a new kind of drama based on middle-class life and speech, she asserts; since what people say isnt necessarily what they mean, actors in these plays must imagine and convey their characters inner lives beneath and beyond the textbut always for the purpose of illuminating its themes. Adlers interpretations stick closely to received wisdom: Ibsen depicts the individual struggling for liberation from societys conventions; Strindberg portrays men and women in mortal conflict; Chekhov is the poet of nostalgia and loss. Nonetheless, her specific examples of how an actor can particularize these themes in an individual characters actionse.g., Noras habit of hiding things in A Dolls Houseare fascinating. Its hard to say what exactly film biographer Paris (Garbo, 1995, etc.) did to edit Adlers talks, which, judging by internal references, date from the mid-'70s through the mid-'80s. He provides very few footnotes, and he eliminates neither her repetitions nor her actressy asides for the benefit of her audience (Ill tell you because I want you to love me). More rigorous cutting would have better highlighted Alders very serious commitment to these plays and to the art of acting. Despite these flaws, Adler is majestic and inspiring as she speaks to us from a bygone age in which the theater was the principal creative home for actors who achieved dignity from their abilities as interpretive artists, not from their celebrity status or their paychecks. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.