The Understudy


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Oct 16, 2010

Old style theatre life

This book was a curiosity to me. My mother had a book-of-the-month club membership eons ago, and this one arrived. I don't know if she ever read it. One summer, I think I was 15, with nothing to read in the house, I picked it up. It was a marvel to me. The phrases from days gone by that meant nothing to me at the time (i.e. "lace curtain Irish," "crepe-hanger," etc.) had me confused and perplexed and the Internet didn't exsist yet (yes, I am indeed that old!). But I also adored old movies, knew Kazan as a director who suffered the persecution of McCarthy, who delivered amazing movies that influenced the next generations of movie makers, and I was determined to read this book. I did read it, and being only 15, found a lot of the references a bit too adult for me. I re-read it a couple of years later, and again and again until it sadly was lost in a move. Our main character is a theatre (as in "the true theatre" not movie) director who needs a break from his life, and is going on safari in Africa. He is going in style--with a great white hunter, with a retinue of several "colored boys," to do all the actual work, with meals that are gourmet prepared even in the deepest bush of Africa. He wants to see the wildebeest migration. Meanwhile, back home, a parasitic has-been actor is leeching off his family, relying on his ongoing charity, and a crisis of morality is looming: will he cut off this old guy who no longer has anything to offer in the theatre world that is dominating his present life? Or will he continue to be kind to him, despite everything done to him, because he feels he owes the old guy for a past indiscretion? Will his wife put up with this any longer? Will he avoid the numerous pitfalls that can destroy everything he's worked for? Now that I'm an adult, know so much more about Kazan's work, have read more on his fabulous collaborations with Tennessee Williams (what I would have given to see the original plays when they premiered!), this book has deeper nuances and sub-stories that I have a greater understanding for in my maturity. I do indeed recommend this book, as a good read whether you care for Kazan or not. It's an interesting story, a good moral tale, and it shows an understanding of building a character in a novel that seems to be lost on some of the newer novels of today. I am SO glad Alibris exsists to let me replace my long gone copy.

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