The line reading I'll never forget, however, came in the last moments of Elaine Romero's uneven drama If Susan Smith Could Talk, a play that delves into the psyche of the real-life racist child-murderer who drowned her own kids in South Carolina. Gwynn as Smith, about to burst out of profound grief and despair, begs her captors: "Put a pin in me so that I can pop."
In a lighter vein, here's a tip of the hat to Jerry Clicquot, who, as did his colleagues, played multiple roles, but none quite as remarkable as that of the title beast in A Tiger in Central Park. Wearing no costume other than a tiger-stripe T-shirt and a ferocious attitude, he made me believe he actually had fangs. Grrrrrrrr.
And speaking of larger-than-life theater beasts, if you're a theatergoer in search of nourishing summer reading, let me give you a nudge in the direction of Threads of Time, the new memoir by the great Peter Brook. The erstwhile Royal Shakespeare Company director and long-time theater genius's last head-turning production was the mid-Eighties marathon Mahabarata. Now he writes about his early years and influences, as well as his brilliant career in Covent Garden, Stratford-on-Avon, and the West End, where he directed the likes of Paul Scofield, Laurence Olivier, and Jeanne Moreau.
Brook experienced (or in fact caused) so many highlights of twentieth-century theater that his story would be great reading even if he merely recited it. Fortunately for us, he's also a gifted writer and storyteller. Below is a typical excerpt, in which he describes the effect of his friendship with the infamous conjurer Aleister Crowley. (It's thrilling to be reminded that Crowley was once a living, breathing person and not just a curiosity whose legend is currently getting a mediocre resurrection from new-age acolytes.)
"When I did my first production in London, Doctor Faustus," Brook writes, "[Crowley] agreed to be magical adviser and came to a rehearsal, having first made me promise that no one should know who he was, as he just wanted to watch unseen from the back of the stalls. But when Faust began his incantation, it was too much for [Crowley] and he was on his feet, roaring impressively, 'No! No, no! You need a bowl of bull's blood. That'll bring real spirits, I promise you!' Then he added with a broad wink, 'Even at a matinee.'"
Brook goes on to write, "[Crowley] had demystified himself, and we laughed together." You'll laugh too if you're lucky enough to find this book in your hands.
Written by Wendy Hammond; directed by Paul Johnson; with Kimberly Ehly, Julie Dawn Francis, Ashley O'Connor, Nicolae Popescu, and Andre Todd Bruni. Through July 12. Florida Playwrights' Theater, 1936 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood; 954-925-8123.