Book Reviews

Stop the Show!
A History of Insane Incidents and Absurd Accidents in the Theater

by Brad Schreiber

Book Review by Bob Gutowski

Stop the Show!So here you are, the holidays weighing heavily upon you, looking for a suitable stocking-stuffer or outright gift for a theatre-lover. I happily suggest Brad Schreiber's compilation of awful and wonderful little moments of theatre history, which he's collected from previously printed accounts (and more on that in a moment) and from all four corners of the world, from all kinds of people. In fact, my own night of horror at Doctor Jazz, elegantly retold by Schreiber, is now preserved between covers for posterity.

Do I sound disparaging if I say this is an ideal volume for the bathroom? I thank heaven for books like these, which let you begin with any section or page at random and be entertained. This particular volume comprises chapters entitled "At a Loss for Words," "Who Are You Wearing?," A Drastic Change of Scenery," "Noises Off," "Hard Shoes to Fill," and "Who Asked You?" The book spans hundreds of years of stagecraft, and I feel it would be churlish to spoil any story by previewing it for you, but I will mention the names Mike Nichols, Lunt and Fontanne, Irving Berlin, Debra Monk, Gwen Verdon, and Nicol Williamson to whet your appetite.

My only caveats are those which apply to legions of books today: copy editing and fact checking. An account of a 1960 production of the Passion play The Christus mentions the crucifixion scene, with Schreiber stating that near the actor playing Christ, and "similarly affixed [,] was the character Barabbas." Now, unless David Mamet has run out of overlong British plays to condense and has already begun combining characters in the New Testament as part of his next project (surely the perfect production with which to re-open the Mark Hellinger!), I must respectfully protest. Neither of the thieves who were crucified along with Jesus were Barabbas. As you may know from your catechism (or the four-thirty movie), Barabbas was the criminal who was set free in Christ's stead. I'm willing to bet this error appeared in the original source; it would have been terrific if Schreiber had caught and corrected this mistake before he rewrote the anecdote. By the way, the tale, in part, deals with how unseemly it can be for an actor playing Jesus to be convulsed with laughter while He is supposed to be suffering and dying for the sins of mankind. Object lesson, I'd say!

But I had promised I wouldn't give anything away, and so I'll simply end by recommending this delightful little book, minor blemishes and all. Happy holidays!

Stop the Show!Stop the Show!
A History of Insane Incidents and Absurd Accidents in the Theater

By Brad Schreiber
Paperback. 272 pages
Thunder's Mouth Press
Publishing date: September 2006
List Price: $15.95
ISBN: # 1560258209