Outstanding Memoirs | Performing Arts

These performing arts memoirs feature Judi Dench’s insights, personal experiences, and knowledge about Shakespeare’s plays and RuPaul baring his soul about his dysfunctional family and the battles he has fought.

Dench, Judi & Brendan O’Hea. Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent. St. Martin’s. Apr. 2024. 400p. ISBN 9781250325778. $32. THEATER

According to Oscar-winning actress Dench (Behind the Scenes), Shakespeare is for everyone; readers can bring their own life experiences to his works and interpret them accordingly. Plus, his plays speak to the universal human condition. Both Dench and her late husband, Michael Williams, revered the playwright. For them, Shakespeare was “the man who paid the rent.” This book contains a series of interviews between Dench and renowned Shakespearean actor and director O’Hea, whom she has known and worked with for many years. Each interview is a concise gem that brings together Dench’s insights, personal experiences, and knowledge about Shakespeare’s plays, including Macbeth and Hamlet. Her memory of each role she has played is astounding. Dispersed throughout the interviews are musings on audiences, language, critics, and the future of Shakespeare. Serious and thoughtful without being stuffy, this work shows Dench’s terrific sense of fun as she relates hilarious anecdotes that will make readers laugh out loud. VERDICT A compendium of great wit and wisdom with universal appeal. Both Shakespeare fans and novices, especially students who might find his language difficult to understand, will be delighted.—Penelope J.M. Klein

RuPaul. The House of Hidden Meanings: A Memoir. Dey Street. Mar. 2024. 304p. ISBN 9780063263901. $29.99. MEMOIR

RuPaul’s memoir is the polar opposite of his breezy 1995 autobiography, Letting It All Hang Out. In this book, the drag superstar, Tony Award winner and 12-time Emmy winner, bares his soul about his dysfunctional family and the battles he has fought. He eloquently excavates old memories of growing up in San Diego with three sisters and a flinty and hot-tempered mother. Although he learned independence and self-sufficiency from his mother, she often told him (even when he was as young as five) that he was too sensitive and pensive. When his father left the family, his mother was bedridden for years. At 15, he moved in with one of his older sisters and her husband in Atlanta. By age 21, he had found supportive friends and experimented with non-glamorous, thrift-store drag items that were more punk than disco. After several attempts to live in New York City (often couch surfing or sleeping in parks), RuPaul reinvented himself and found success with the 1993 single “Supermodel (You Better Work).” VERDICT A probing, emotionally raw memoir that’s an introspective examination of RuPaul’s family and the issues he confronted before embracing self-love.—Kevin Howell

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