By Bob Abelman
As a local critic and sometimes actor, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, I continued to write about theater – just not reviews and not for a newspaper.
A few years ago, I performed in the Cleveland Play House production of “Yentl” so I could write about the experience for the Cleveland Jewish News, Canvas’ sister newspaper. Why not turn the series of behind-the-scenes articles into a memoir, just as journalist George Plimpton had done when he transformed a few Sports Illustrated stories about taking some snaps as the Detroit Lions’ quarterback into the autobiography “Paper Lion”? Renegade chef Anthony Bourdain did the same when he converted his The New Yorker essay “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” into a game-changing, best-selling memoir “Kitchen Confidential.”
But three chapters in, I realized there really wasn’t much of a story to tell. The production of “Yentl” was … fine. My fellow actors were generous. The audience was appreciative. Not the stuff of a tell-all page-turner. And so, I decided to give my real-world experiences a makeover with a hard-candy coating of fabrication, thereby turning my serious memoir into a humorous, fictionalized semi-autobiography. The pleasant experience of “Yentl” was swapped out for a terrifying misadventure in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”
And my avatar – a better looking but less functional version of me – found iambic pentameter petrifying and had to live out the nightmare of sharing the stage with the thin-skinned classically trained actors he had just panned in the press. In the book, fellow critics angered by the traitorous breach of the proscenium arch circled like sharks on opening night.
My novella “All The World’s A Stage Fright: Misadventures of a Clandestine Critic” was published eight months into the pandemic and has found an audience. With the continued cancellation of theatrical productions due to the coronavirus variants, the sequel “Murder, Center Stage” – an Agatha Christi-like whodunit set in a production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” – hit bookstores late last year.
Here’s hoping that in 2022, there’s no need for a trilogy.