The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned To Act

Bloomsbury. Feb. 2022. 512p. ISBN 9781635574777. $30. THEATER
Butler (coauthor of The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of “Angels in America”) provides an excellent, thorough history of the preeminent school of American acting. This work is all the more welcome given that consolidating the multiple—and often contradictory—definitions as to what exactly constitutes “the Method” is itself a Herculean achievement. Method acting is associated with moody, fully invested American actors (think Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, or Robert De Niro gaining 60 pounds to portray Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull), but Butler traces the style back to its firmly Russian roots and Konstantin Stanislavski’s “system,” which made its way to the United States in the early part of the 20th century. There it became “the Method,” revolutionized American theater, focused actors on “the inner life,” and led to schools run by Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner, each of whom had devoted adherents (and detractors). Butler draws a straight line from collective Russian theater actors of the 1870s to the work of current actors like Frances McDormand, with fascinating stops along the way.
VERDICT Butler has produced an essential study of this hugely influential theory and practice of American acting. This work should be in every collection of books on theater and film.
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