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on 10 January 1999
The book divides into three sections, initially examining the similarities between her novel People In Trouble and the musical Rent, and then placing Aids performance in the contemporary theatre setting. By far the most successful section of the book is the dirt on Rent, the treatment of the author shocking, and she makes some excellent attacks on the shallowness of this musical. However, her demonstration of the assimulation of alternative culture and artists into the mainstream, and the harm caused to that alternative art, is uneven. The author has made some excellent points, yet they are often under- developed as she becomes involved in documenting her personal responses to the work discussed. For me, this is the problem with the book. I suspect she is a good writer, yet her personal experience with the powers behind Rent have understandably clouded her objectivity. A longer book (perhaps setting the background with a study of pre- 1990s Aids performance)may have aided her argument-after all she has lived and worked through this period. As it stands, this book is a great article extended too thinly. However, if you care in any way about the threat to performance by the twin pressures of Aids and Capitalism, then my conclusion is obvious-read it!
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on 27 May 1999
Schulman has the uncanny ability to: a) tell a personal story about the plagiarism of her work, her attempts for resolution, her experiences as a woman, a lesbian, an author in the fight against AIDS; b) write an insightful account of the state of the commercial theatre -- a late '90s version of the type of essay Miller and Albee wrote 40-50 years ago; c) create a remarkable context for unmasking homophobia and explaining the cultural position of gays and lesbians in contempory America; and d) give the reader something that's both challenging and easy to read. I found it to be entirely engaging and incredibly smart.
I am also one of the many people who saw "Rent" on Broadway during the week it won the Tony, and I'm not ashamed to say, I loved it. But a year or so later, when it came to LA, I took a couple of friends and saw it again -- and I have to admit, it seemed fake, packaged, forced. In her role as a critic, apart from her personal connection to the show, Schulman explains why parts of "Rent" seem false. She puts into words some of the fleeting, troubling thoughts I couldn't articulate for myself.
I'm an English professor and I teach drama -- I intend to use "Stagestruck" in future courses.
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on 12 March 1999
Obviously the person here who has given this book two stars TWICE is very threatened by the book. Despite his claims of finding it dull and badly written, he's drawn back to read and review the book again! Sounds like Ms. Schulman struck a nerve!
This is a historic book about the commodification and fetishization of marginal experience. It's also a helluva good read -- alternately brilliant, trashy, gossipy, and academic.
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on 18 June 1999
I find Schulman's story completely fascinating: what it must have been like to summarily ignored and dismissed by people form several communitites in and around the RENT phenomena is nothing short of amazing. I also find her radical politics incredibly invigorating. Schulman really puts herself out on a limb, seemingly careless of whom she might offend. However, Schulman's tone (I just can't think of a better word for it) throughout the book creates a great amount of distance between author and reader (well, at least this reader). While reading, I couldn't help but think: "No wonder no one came to your defense---you're completely annoying." Now, that might sound pithy (or even personal if I actually knew her), but Schulman simply doesn't make it easy for me to empathize with her. Furthermore, she tends to contradict herself at it suits her particular argument. When discussing critical responses to lesbian theatre/performance, she complains of a period in time when there were no papers hiring lesbian critics (who would, ostensibly, be truly qualified). The next page (the VERY next page) sees Schulman complaining that when papaers sent lesbian critcs to lesbian theatre/performances, they were invariably "marginalizing" her work and the work of other lesbian artists. I applaud Schulman for her brave text, but I ultimately feel that the work as a whole is contradictory, lacks specificity (examples would help the section on marketing immensely), and suffers from her (though entirely justifiable) wronged/angered/violated tone.
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on 27 October 1998
Oh Sarah you disappoint so!
I bought this book after hearing a snippet of an interview with Ms. Schulman on NPR. The prospect of getting the dish on how RENT was plagiarized and how RENT is emblematic of widespread dominant (hetero) culture co-option of homosexuality was too good to pass up.
So, I read the book. As a result, I was (1) insulted; (2) befuddled; and (3) bored -- not necessarily in that order.
INSULTED: Schulman indulges in repeated bashing of straight males (read: me), which is gratuitous. Name calling gets no one anywhere. She also insults her reader's intelligences. In several instances, she introduces clever and (I believe) original ideas but then suddenly drops them (saving her the difficulty of actualling developing her thoughts beyond the embryonic, bullet-point stage). Doesn't Schulman believe her readers deserve more? Sloppy editing in several areas -- including several typos -- irked me too.
BEFUDDLED: I could not sift through the myriad points, remarks, and asides of Ms. Schulman to get to what her message is. What is she trying to say? I found myself asking that question all the time... I found no answer.
BORED: In a (worthwhile) attempt to provide theatrical context for RENT, Schulman digresses into page after page after page of unspectacular writing about dull works that she only sometimes adequately brings to life for the reader. She drops unknown names and sprinkles soporific asides into this utterly painful part of her book.
Having said all that, I feel that there is a considerable amount of creativity as well as genuine orginality in Schulman's work (hence two stars and not none)... but I find it a pity that she doesn't develop her thoughts further and that shes meanders from point to point.
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on 18 February 1999
I submitted a previous review of the book (giving it two stars) and, in the spirit of fairness, reviewed the work again recently.
I stand by my previous conclusion: I feel that there is a considerable amount of creativity as well as genuine orginality in Schulman's work (hence two stars and not none)... but I find it a pity that she doesn't develop her thoughts further and that she meanders from point to point.
I am not a white male, as a subsequent reviewer has suggested. I am a male who is a person of color. I resent the dispelling of my viewpoint because it disagrees with that of other reviewers, particularly on the grounds of some putative inherent gender/race difference.
Schulman's fan appear to share a weakness with Schulman (at least the Schulman who wrote Stagestruck) -- the predilection to assert supposed truths without developing the given thought further. Saying something forcefully doesn't necessarily make it true...
rjnjm@yahoo.com
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on 27 December 1998
Sarah Schulman's inspiring and inspired book looks at the gross ways in which genuine American experience is corrupted and commodified by unoriginal, shrewd writers. The book is the story of the musical RENT but it is so much more -- an accessible but intellectually rigorous look at contemporary playwriting, a heartbreaking narrative about the loss of the artist culture in New York City's East Village, and an entirely compelling personal memoir about the difficulties of being a moral artist in amoral times. This is a heartbreaker, a must-read for anyone who cares about books and art.
The first review posted here is by a white male who feels offended by Schulman's challenging of dominant authorities and conventional and patriarchal narratives. This is an unfortunate and in my view invalid response; it's about time marginalized people get to tell their stories.
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