The Play's the Thing: The Theatrical Collaboration of Clark Bowlen and Kathleen
iUniverse, 187 pages, (paperback) $17.95, 978-1-4917-6151-9
(Reviewed: June 2015)
The Play's the Thing is Kathleen Keena's theater diary starting at Manchester Community College in Connecticut, 1988, where she meets theater chair Clark Bowlen. They collaborate (and eventually marry) until Bowlen's death at age 70. We follow their productions from academia to community to independent theater, as Keena directs while Bowlen designs sets and lighting.
Keena’s narrative takes a close look at individual plays. Including such productions as The Glass Menagerie, The Taming of the Shrew, The Rainmaker, Desire Under the Elms, and Buried Child, she breaks her discussion of each into categories: “Background,” “Synopsis,” “Challenges,” “Actors.”
The author is incisive, articulate, and effective as she examines the thought process behind each play. While exploring The Glass Menagerie, she notes: “Tennessee Williams' works are infused with fragile Southern belles, crumbling plantations, inarticulate males, sexual ambiguity, and a lyrical quality with a remorseful tone.” She goes on to explain her vision of the piece, Bowlen's ideas for the set, any obstacles to the success of the production, and techniques she uses to prepare her cast.
Readers aren’t likely to find a more absorbing, compelling account of theatrical production. Keena and Bowlen always took chances, pushing boundaries and rethinking traditional parameters to facilitate access to the audience, whether it was making the family home of Buried Child transparent or moving The Importance of Being Earnest to America on the verge of The Great Depression. The author shares interesting details about bringing one's interpretation of the script to the stage, while intertwining her professional evolution with her husband's.
The Play's the Thing offers pleasurable, dynamic reading for anybody who enjoys understanding how a show is built from the ground up.
Also available as an ebook.