The Stuff of Dreams
Behind the scenes of an American community theater
(2001) In this unique theatrical memoir, novelist Cohen chronicles the ups and downs of her suburban community theater's struggles over the staging of David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly. The project is fraught with problems—the Arlington, Mass., theater and its conservative supporters are reluctant to stage a play that deals daringly with sexuality and race; meanwhile, it proves quite difficult to find an Asian man to play the transgendered lead (who also has a nude scene)—but the show must and does go on. Cohen, who loves working in theater, is a keen observer who never hesitates to pinpoint the problems and personality clashes endemic to the process of putting on a play. While she provides useful background, from the history of her theater (begun in 1913) to the importance of community theater in the U.S., she is best at describing the endlessly delicate negotiations between the small but award-winning theater's director, actors, designers and stagehands. Cohen is respectful of everyone's opinions and methods as they face M. Butterfly's considerable challenges to the theater's conventional approach to staging a production and moves us assuredly through her characters' process of political and artistic discovery. While never deeply probing the myriad social issues it raises, Cohen's backstage drama does give us a miniature yet nuanced glimpse into a world rarely explored.
Richly presented in page-turning form...Cohen's narrative has a fascinating cast of characters...you'll have to read it. It's a must.
– The Boston Globe
An incredibly beautiful, rich work which speaks simply yet deeply about art, community, and the complexities of the human spirit.
– David Henry Hwang, author of M. Butterfly
These chronicles most sparklingly capture theater's raison d'être.
– Entertainment Weekly