Hartford Stagebooks


Here’s an audience-engagement idea I can really get behind. Much better than a singles night in the lobby. You get to bury your nose in a book.

Hartford Stage is starting Darko’s Book Club, a reading/discussion group which examines the literary backgrounds and non-fiction subtexts of some of the shows in the theater’s current season.

The club meets on six separate Mondays at 6 p.m. There’s a $120 fee, plus you have to buy your own books. You’ll be at the theater, so there’ll be refreshments and a cash bar. If you don’t want to sign up for the whole series, you can pay $25 for just the first installment, on Sept. 15.

The full schedule:

Sept. 15: The book is Ether Day, by Julie Fenster, one of the sources used by playwright Elizabeth Egloff when creating her drama Ether Dome, about the Hartford-based anesthesia pioneer Horace Wells. Egloff’s Ether Dome is at Hartford Stage Sept. 11 through Oct. 5.

Oct. 20: The book is 1599—A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro (who also wrote Contested Will, a terrific book about people who didn’t write Shakespeare). Darko Tresnjak, who’s directing Hamlet at Hartford Stage Oct. 16 through Nov. 16, leads the discussion.

Jan. 12: The book is Theatre by Somerset Maugham, even though the play being produced at Hartford Stage that month is Private Lives (Jan. 8 though Feb. 8), and even though the play’s author Noel Coward wrote plenty of novels and memoirs and short stories of his own. Maugham and Coward weren’t exactly kindred spirits. Maugham was 25 years older, and according to Jeffrey Meyers unflinching bio Somerset Maugham: A Life, while everyone else in the Maugham’s circle kowtowed to the bestselling bastard, Coward was unafraid, mocking the older writer in several different books and plays. Maugham was reportedly the basis for the closeted jerk in Coward’s A Song at Twilight, which was co-produced by Hartford Stage and Westport Country Playhouse last season.

Feb. 3: The book is Another Country by James Baldwin, which presumably will prepare audiences for Matthew Lopez’ new play Reverberation (world-premiering at Hartford Stage Feb. 19 through March 15). Both works contain themes of isolation, sexuality and violence.

March 30: The book is The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport—A Memoir of Music, Love and Survival by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen. This is the book that was adapted into the one-woman piano/theater show The Pianist of Willesden Lane, which will be performed by Golabek herself at Hartford Stage March 26 through April 26.

May 18: The book is a play, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, since Hartford Stage is presenting the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me Kate May 14 through June 14. So brush up your Shakespeare. Start learning him now. Darko Tresnjak, who’ll direct the musical, will lead the discussion.

What, no Dickens? The Hartford Stage is doing its annual Christmas Carol Nov. 28 through Dec. 28.

Nope, that’s it. Six books—or more precisely, two novels, two works of non-fiction and a playscript.

I think having Maugham when you could have Coward is a frustrating choice, and reading Taming of the Shrew to prep for Kiss Me Kate is kind of a cop-out—there are so many good books on Cole Porter out there. But I applaud the very concept of a regional theater book club. Bookmark Hartford Stage and read on.

For details of Darko’s Book Club, look it up yourself, bookworm. Or try (860) 527-5151 or http://www.hartfordstage.org/