I'll admit (and, probably, commit) the tediousness of many reviewers. Sanctimonious and certain, they often slash and burn their way across a landscape that they know only as outsiders. But now and then you find someone who understands a topic deeply, has experience in it, and a sharp and humane eye, all while being amusing. I'd place John Heilpern in this category if his work didn't do so itself.
Theater critic for the New York Observer, Heilpern is passionate about the topic, has seen his own plays produced, and has an unusually keep wit. Although his latest book is a biography of the British playwright, John Osborne, I came across How Good Is David Mamet, Anyway?
, which came out in 1999, in a used book store. I'll confess to never having read Heilpern's work before - it was the title that got me, as I'm not the world's largest Mamet fan, at least in the non-fiction of his that I've read of late. And it's fairly unusual for someone in the theatrical community to take on a contemporary icon.
But take him on Heilpern did, as well as writers at the New York Times, American anglophilia, Disney Land (the new name for Broadway), and other topics. At the same time, he's anything but mean-spirited. Many of his pieces put praise where he thinks it's due and tries to analyze what is good and bad about productions. Many of his observations run from the droll to the uproariously funny. And where else can you get a delightful transcript of a lunch between Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson.
If you've any regard for theater, or for intelligent criticism of any sort, you should be tickled with this book. Now I'll have to get hold of a copy of his Osborne biography.
Labels: book review, review, theater