Public/Private: My Life with Joe Papp at the Public Theater

Applause. Oct. 2023. 346p. ISBN 9781493074860. $32.95. THEATER
Joe Papp (1921–91) is a legend in the annals of American theater history. He founded the New York Shakespeare Festival, which has offered free performances in New York City since 1956. He also conceived, nearly 60 years ago, New York’s Public Theater, where some of the most iconic American productions have originated, including Hair, A Chorus Line, The Normal Heart, and Hamilton. The distinguished cast of players who have taken the Public’s stage includes Morgan Freeman, Colleen Dewhurst, Meryl Streep, Patti Lupone, and Denzel Washington. But that is only half of this story. Papp and the award-winning play developer who authored this book met as colleagues at the Public Theater. Then their work relationship developed into a personal one; they married in 1976 and remained together until his death. Their story is deftly woven into the fabric of this compelling account. Since it is also a history, there are appendixes that list the actors, choreographers, composers, directors, and playwrights who worked on the Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater, and there’s a helpful bibliography too.
VERDICT A terrific twofer that’s both a fascinating history and an affecting personal memoir. Will likely appeal to theater fans everywhere.
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