The Group Theater lived in the thirties in New York, during the time of the Great Depression.
From that Stanislavsky based foundation in 1931, has grown most of what we deem today to be good actors, good directors, good writers, good theatre and good film. This book, The Fervent Years, will explain it all.
I was fortunate to have known two of its three founders. Harold Clurman, who wrote the book, lived next door to me at The Osborne (my co-op apartment stolen by L.A. Family Court), and Lee Strasberg. I studied with Lee for a number of years at Carnegie Hall opposite, in the sixties. And Maude Franchot in the building was my best friend in those days, she being related to Franchot Tone, who became the betrayer, the collective felt, because he sold out and came to Hollywood. Yes, I have personal links to remind me to remind you.
One of their writers was Clifford Odets, noted dramatist and screenwriter. And we saw how the performing arts became part of the gigantic protest movement harnessed at that time. It made change happen, no doubt about that; a social function of the arts, forgotten and buried by most production companies today, in it only for the money.
Today’s news may be an exception. I understand there’s a new musical on the Rialto that celebrates the spirit of Waiting for Lefty. It’s called Newsies the Musical, and the book is written by Harvey Fierstein. It appears to have awakened some of the same feelings as Odets did in its audiences.
I have made a friend of my favorite theatre critic in New York. Her name is Lucy Komisar. I like her, because she maintains a humble approach when she attends theatre, and because of her investigative mind (like me). She is able to tell us what she saw, and how it affected her. She sent me this observation of the show:
If Clifford Odets had written a musical for the Group Theater, it would have been “Newsies.” The author of the militant “Waiting for Lefty,” with its moving chorus of “Strike, Strike!” lives in spirit in Harvey Fierstein’s play about young exploited workers who rebel against the corporate boss. At a time when trade unions are beaten down by the big-money people who run our country, it is thrilling to see a play that celebrates the struggle of workers to get decent pay. And especially a reminder of how corporate magnates would and did exploit children if they could. So, cheers to Fierstein for writing the book of this play. At the performance I attended, the enthusiastic reaction of the middle class audience (who could afford the tickets) shows that his message is well received. That is a story that hasn’t been reported.
Check out Lucy’s website for her full review. She has much to say about what’s going on in New York theatre (as well as global hijinks), and see what she recommends. It’s well maintained, and includes a searchable archive of her theatre-going experiences, which includes my (ex) wife’s last play Nightingale, performed at a desk and read from a script, a few months prior to her death.
Well, Happy Labor Day! Go to see live theatre, if you can afford to!