Jack in the Box: Or, How to Goddamn Direct

Theater director Jack O'Brien (Jack Be Nimble: The Accidental Education of an Unintentional Director) would rather spill more ink about his misses than his hits: he's of the opinion that "success just feels good, while failure is where we are forced to learn." Readers will learn a lot from Jack in the Box: Or, How to Goddamn Direct--not only about the art of directing for the theater but also about some of the greats who devoted their lives to the stage.

The now 80-something O'Brien, who has received Tony Awards for Hairspray, Henry IV and The Coast of Utopia, spent about a quarter of a century as artistic director of San Diego's Old Globe, which reliably sent shows to Broadway. Translation: O'Brien has seen a lot. While Jack in the Box fulfills the promise of its subtitle--there's even a section in chapter one that is all about blocking--much of the book focuses on the titans of the stage with whom O'Brien had the pleasure of working, most significantly Mike Nichols and Tom Stoppard. O'Brien also writes of three theater giants with whom he had less rewarding associations: Neil Simon (who fired him), Andrew Lloyd Webber (ditto) and George Abbott. Of the latter, O'Brien writes: "[H]e died two years later at 107, and I truly believe those extra two years were pretty much fueled by fury at me."

O'Brien's accounts of on-the-fly problem-solving help demystify a director's creative process, and his light touch and ready wit ensure that Jack in the Box is never guilty of a theatergoer's worst fear: dullness. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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