American Vaudeville

West Virginia Univ. Jul. 2021. 160p. ISBN 9781952271069. pap. $19.99. THEATER
Vaudeville began in barns, warehouses, stables, and churches. It grew until performers such as Buster Keaton, Eva Tanguay, and Julian Eltinge performed in front of massive crowds on theater circuits, and then it died. Poet Hilsabeck (Riddles, Etc.) uses the physical remnants of performances, including fan letters, programs, tickets, and photo negatives, to re-create experiences within the world of vaudeville. He overzealously uses punctuation and sentence fragmentation and refuses to cue readers to subject changes with basic textual structure, resulting in a convoluted reading experience. Adding to the confusion, Hilsabeck’s assertions and insights are rarely backed up with citations. When he does cite evidence, it is unclear which parts of his text are taken from primary sources and which are original analysis.
VERDICT Reading like stream of consciousness, this book often lacks clear delineation between fact and the author’s fanciful creation. An interesting artistic experiment that pushes the boundaries of nonfiction, but not recommended.
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