Welcome to Pogue's Pages!

I'm POGUE...known by many as Chuck Pogue, a few as Charles Pogue, and billed professionally as Charles Edward Pogue...just because it really looks BIG splashed across a theatre programme or a movie screen. From that last remark and the profile on the left, you can see I'm a theatre man...And the term "theatre" encompasses stage, film, TV. I've been shooting my mouth off on other people's blogs and message boards for forever. So having finally gotten the hang of it, I've decided to build my own soapbox from which I can pontificate, blather, and muse...mostly on theatre, film, writing, music, books...but ultimately anything that interests me, irritates me, or just catches my fancy. I invite you to join me. I'll try to be faithful and update regularly, so that when you visit there will always be something fresh percolating and maybe even provocative that we can discuss, dissect, or debate.

Charles Edward Pogue

Wednesday, April 15, 2009



"Whattya reading?"
"Shakespeare's Comedies."
"Why ain't ya laughing?"

--A fellow serviceman interrogating my mentor, UK Theatre Professor Charles F. Dickens, in their barracks one day on his reading matter.--


Of the 5-6,000 books in my house, roughly a third of them are devoted to drama. Naturally, much of my theatre reading is a necessity for my profession. But let me forgo any pretension; I simply find reading about theatre and theatre folk a pure pleasure.

Plays can have all the thrills, chills, and spills of a rip-snorting, page-turning novel and they’re mostly dialogue; no digesting huge paragraphs of descriptive prose, delineating the landscape of some pastoral environment or the murkier landscape of the protagonist’s mind. Plays tend to get right to the grapes. And bios, memoirs, rehearsal journals, and even more analytical tomes are often rife with juicy anecdotes, gossip, and just great raconteurism. We in the theatre love theatre yarns.

So what am I reading? Plays…all the time. Sometimes I knock off four-five in a row. Often I use them as palate-cleansers between weightier matter – thick novels or history. Sometimes it’s purely an immersion in research. As something of theatre archeologist, I’m fascinated by the old, the odd, the obscure, the rarely performed…wanting to ferret out why something once popular has now been forgotten or why something failed. Sometimes such discoveries are illuminating – unveiling something that deserves re-examination. Sometimes one just finds a challenge, something that makes one go: “I’d like to see if this could actually work on stage.”

Ever hear of Stephen Phillips? He was a verse dramatist who wrote plays about historical or mythic figures…NERO, HAROLD, ULYSSES, to name a few…I recently picked up something by Rostand, celebrated Cyrano author, called THE FAR PRINCESS. It’s no Cyrano, but it’s intriquing. The Tony-winning musical, SPRING AWAKENING was based on an early 20th-century German play, THE AWAKENING OF SPRING (or Fruhlingserwachen, if you’re a purist…umlaut over the “u”) by Frank Wedekind…I plucked a Wedekind collection off a dusty shelf in a used bookstore with the alluring title TRAGEDIES OF SEX, also containing EARTH SPIRIT, DAMNATION, and PANDORA’S BOX on which the great silent movie was based, directed by G.B. Pabst and starring Louise Brooks.

When actor Tony Haigh did AGL’s EXITS & ENTRANCES, he quoted from a once-venerable classic of the British stage, HASSAN, by James Elroy Flecker. What a curious piece! Doing a search on an as-yet-unread novel in my book collection I uncovered another piece by the author, Robert Raynolds: a verse drama called BOADICEA. I ordered it over the internet. Its arrival brought some other surprises…the book was autographed and given to a friend by the person to whom the book is dedicated. The dedicatee’s friend apparently knew the author as well; for she had scrawled on the end cover: “This book is written by a little boy I knew years ago in St. Louis.” I love little historical connections like these. Unlike the novel, I have read the play…interesting…

It’s always interesting to discover dramatic forays by novelists I collect. I own two plays by Rafael Sabatini, author of CAPTAIN BLOOD and SCARAMOUCHE. The published play, THE TYRANT, is a sympathetic portrayal of Cesare Borgia and I find possibly performable.

Another, SACRAMENT OF SHAME, is a Xerox of Sabatini’s typescript which wended its way to me from a University archive through a fellow collector (legitimately, I hasten to add). It needs work. Sabatini wrote other produced plays that I’d like to track down, two adaptations of novels…one, SCARAMOUCHE, was a popular vehicle for the English actor-manager John Martin-Harvey. I’ve a programme from this production in the 20’s, but have yet to track down the play.

(John Martin-Harvey Scaramouche programme)

The same is true for a production of BEAU GESTE from the twenties that starred no less than Laurence Olivier, Jack Hawkins, and Madeleine Carroll. The play followed in the wake of the novel’s enormous success, but was a failure on stage. Olivier gave up the role of Stanhope in the stunning JOURNEY’S END to play the title role in this flop. Surveying the scene breakdown in the programme I have, I can get an inkling of why the play failed…one being they seemed to have tossed out the fascinating opening of the book and subsequent successful film versions…the discovery of a desert fortress manned by dead men and the other mysteries that follow hard on its heels. But I suspect this adventure yarn would be nearly impossible to stage effectively. I would love to find a copy of this play which I suspect only exists in manuscript form, if it still exists at all. (Olivier Beau Geste Programme)

Just recently a volume of plays, MAMEENA, by another novelist I collect, Rider Haggard, was published. Two plays are based on popular novels of his; the other an original. The extensive footnotes provided fascinating background and, in one case, production history. The original play TO HELL OR CONNAUGHT deals with Cromwell’s persecution of the Irish and was a piece that Haggard tried to interest Yeats to do at the Abbey Theatre. Suffice it to say, Mr. Yeats was wise to reject the piece and Mr. Haggard’s prodigious talents as a novelist are not reflected in this play.

Another curio is THE JEST by Sem Benelli -- a famous triumph for brothers Lionel and John Barrymore in the 20’s. I procured a Xerox from another Barrymore aficionado, a director pal, who got it from John Barrymore III who had produced a production of the play in LA a few years back. The hand-written cues and notes in the margins as well as the title page information indicates this might well be a Xerox of a production copy from the original Broadway mounting of the play.

Of course, not all my play-reading is restricted to the ancient and obscure. I’m currently making a concerted effort to get through any Stoppard I haven’t read or seen and the same for August Wilson. Other reading has lured me into the “Royal Court/Angry Young Man” period and so I’ve been devouring some John Whiting, John Osborne, John Arden, with Arnold Wesker waiting on the night-table. It’s nice to fill this gap in my education and discover some terrific plays.

Every time I return from London (see London Theatre Blogs below), my suitcase is crammed with recently produced plays there…many very good that never seem to make it to this side of the Pond. And I still take plenty of jaunts into the classics…Elizabethan, Jacobean, Restoration, Ibsen, Shaw, the Greeks. I recently read PERICLES for the first time. A curious play with an interlocutor linking the action and a passive hero, but still rife with enough fascinating moments that my curiosity is peaked to see how one might effectively mount this lesser Shakespearean play.

But let’s get to those juicy, gossipy books of great raconteurism. There’s none better than SIR JOHN GIELGUD: A LIFE IN LETTERS…a collection of Sir John’s epistles from the 1920’s to shortly before his death. Besides a wonderful record of the theatre scene, it is full of Gielgud’s insights into theatre, and his funny, perceptive, and often deliciously catty remarks about other theatre illuminati. Sir John has written several books. To mention a few: ACTING SHAKESPEARE, his experiences with his many productions, both as a director and actor; DISTINGUISHED COMPANY, his memories of several notable actors of the British Stage; and NOTES FROM THE GODS, mini-reviews he scribbled on his programmes from the various plays he saw early in the 20th century.

A more recent raconteur is Sir Peter Hall, the great British director who founded the RSC and ran the National Theatre. PETER HALL’S DIARIES recount when he was appointed successor to Laurence Olivier at the National and shepherded its move to the South Bank. His struggles with Olivier, the board, the directors, the actors, and the egos (his own included) are all diligently recorded.

In sharp counterpoint are THE DIARIES OF KENNETH TYNAN, the great theatre critic and Olivier’s literary manager at the National. Tynan and Hall were not chums and it’s intriguing to see the same incidents perceived entirely differently by two monumental figures involved in the National’s nurturing.

Both these gents, however opposite their views, provide more info than does Olivier in any of his memoirs, most notably his CONFESSIONS OF AN ACTOR. As an autobiographer, Olivier is often guarded and withholding…at least about himself (Jeremy Brett, early National member and Olivier pal, once told me he asked Olivier how the autobiography was coming. Olivier replied: “I just got to my first wank and I’m bored silly.”) To glean insight into the oft-enigmatic Olivier, rely on the half dozen bios about him than his own autobiographical efforts. Or better yet, read the thumbnail impressions by colleagues found in OLIVIER, edited by Logan Gourlay, or OLIVIER AT WORK, compiled by the Royal National Theatre.

Jeremy Brett & director Paul Giovanni/CRUCIFER OF BLOOD party

Richard Eyre, Hall’s successor at the National, also published his diaries, NATIONAL SERVICE, about his tenure there…another great read. The nice thing about diaries and letters is you can skip around. Seek out an actor or an incident in the index and leap to the appropriate page. They can also be read in small snatches -- perfect for waiting rooms, johns, and commercials on the television. I’ve been dipping into THE LETTERS OF NOEL COWARD and THE NOEL COWARD DIARIES as I soak in the tub.

I read actor bios the same way as I do letters or diaries…rarely chronologically. I started JOHN OSBORNE, THE MANY LIVES OF AN ANGRY YOUNG MAN, by John Heilpern, somewhere around the time Osborne’s play, LOOK BACK IN ANGER, premiered. Osborne’s life was so riveting…his genius and talent for self-destruction… that I went back to the beginning to learn how he developed into such a complex critter.

Another complex fellow was Richard Burton. Melvyn Bragg’s RICH, explores his extraordinary talent and intellect. I’ve always been obsessed by actors like Burton who had great gifts but never fully exploited their potential or, perhaps, more accurately never fulfilled the obligation of possessing such talent. Mercurial, flamboyant, restless giants like Burton, Kean, and Barrymore I find endlessly intriguing

The most famous Barrymore bio is Gene Fowler’s excellent GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCE. But JOHN BARRYMORE, SHAKESPEAREAN ACTOR by Michael Morrison dissects Barrymore’s forays into Shakespeare, notably his RICHARD III and his HAMLET when he was at the height of his power. Morrison delves into minute detail of the rehearsals and productions. To read GREAT TIMES, GOOD TIMES by James Kotsilibas-Davis is to discover that Maurice Barrymore…father of John, Ethel, and Lionel…may have been the true genius and tragic figure of the Barrymore clan.

While I hate most theatrical theory (Noel Coward: “I have been gallantly persevering with Stanislaviski’s LIFE IN ART and AN ACTOR PREPARES. Both intolerably turgid and dull and completely devoid of humour”), I love process books where the mounting of a play from planning through rehearsals and into production is examined and explored.
One of the most enjoyable of these is LETTERS TO AN ACTOR by William Redfield, who played Guildenstern in the famous Gielgud/Burton HAMLET. His insights, very definite opinions, and delicious anecdotes are constantly diverting.

The National Theatre has produced a fascinating series of rehearsal diaries of various productions, many of which I was fortunate to see…so reading about how they got to the end result is always illuminating, but even the examinations of those plays I didn’t see are valuable and entertaining. Some of these rehearsal journals include productions of HENRY IV (with Michael “The Great Gambon” Gambon as Falstaff); Simon Russell Beale’s HAMLET; HIS DARK MATERIALS, a production based on Philip Pullman’s famous children’s trilogy; and Peter Hall’s the BACCHAI.

In anticipation of going to a recent local production of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, I re-read Tirzah Lowen’s excellent PETER HALL DIRECTS ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, a rehearsal diary about Hall’s praised 1987 National Theatre production that starred Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins. The observant journal gives us a great glimpse at how Hall guides Dench and Hopkins, two actors at the height of their powers, to their performances of these two middle-aged lovers in their last gasp of passion.

Hall and Trevor Nunn were both trained in a rigid discipline of verse-speaking by George Rylands who learned it from the famous Elizabethan specialist, William Poel. Hall is adamant that the key to great Shakespearean performances lies in understanding how to speak the verse. “Shakespeare tells the actor when to go fast and when to go slow; when to pause, when to come in on cue and when to accent a word,” Hall insists, “His text is full of such clues. He tells the actor when but never why or how. That is up to the actor.” Hall dutifully illuminates his thoughts and gives examples on verse-speaking in his book, SHAKESPEARE’S ADVICE TO THE PLAYERS, one of the most useful books I have when it comes to tackling Shakespeare.

And, speaking of the bard, I’d be remiss not to mention Bernard Grebanier’s THEN CAME EACH ACTOR, that discusses “Shakespearean Actors, Great and Otherwise” from Elizabethan times on. Grebanier can be very opinionated, and often-times even infuriating, about those actors he embraces and those he dismisses, but the book is rich in interesting history and great stories.

All the above-mentioned books and plays can probably be found on Amazon.com or the ABE (in my links to the left).

But enough of my picks. How about some of yours? What theatre books/plays do you find useful, fascinating, entertaining? Any that changed your life, any of my picks you disagree with? Give us your recommendations and tell us why!

In my London Theatre blogs (see March blogs), I mentioned how the book shops that once lined Charing Cross Road are being pushed out by high rents and bad franchise businesses. Now the other great book oasis in London, Cecil Court (see links at left), is being threatened by increased business rates. Read actor/writer Simon Callow's lament on the situation here: http://www.cecilcourt.co.uk/business_rates.php


  1. Oo. I'd be interested in seeing a production of "Tyrant".

    I must admit to somewhat plebian tastes. I'm a fan of "Noises Off" and Charles Marowitz's "The Last Case of Sherlock Holmes" which features the most ludicrous word association sequence i have ever seen committed to page.

    I like me some Eric Bogosian. and I'd love to do "Talk Radio" someday before I die.

    And i've had the great good luck to have done 2 of Martin Mcdonagh's plays. (I hope i spelled that right.) His language is a real treat to work with.

    I also love Tennessee Williams. surest way to get me to come out for an audition is throw some Williams into the mix. I also dig on Chekhov, but he doesn't get done round these parts as much as he should. I happened to see a production of "The Seagull" at ATL featuring John Peilmeier as Trigorin and it was hilarious. I'd been studying Chekhov for a semester at the time and decided that he wasn't at all funny.
    Sometimes, it's good to be wrong.

  2. A Lot of good choices. I LOVE Chekhov. I think I've seen all his major plays in some form or another. Check out the BBC Boxed set of Chekhov...with two different productions of The Cherry Orchard with Judi Dench in both (different roles, of course). McDonagh's a great playwright. Noises off a brilliant farce. Not plebian taste at all.

  3. Chuck-

    Have you happened to read THE VOYSEY INHERITANCE by Granville-Barker yet? I hear it is a great and timely play!!

    I got obsessed with Peter Hall's Diaries and Richard Eyre's Diaries...I also am very fond of both of their autobiographies: Hall's Making an Exhibition of Myself (published in 1993, fills in a lot of blanks from the Diaries) and Eyre's Utopia and Other Places, which is actually more about his childhood (he alludes to a very complicated relationship with his parents in his Diaries) and they both should be required reading for director's, artistic director's or anyone with an interest in how a theatre is run.

    I am currently reading:

    ACTING UP by David Hare...his journal of making his professional acting debut at the age of 51 in the solo play Via Dolorosa at the Royal Court and its subsequent transfer to Broadway.

    OBEDIENCE, STRUGGLE AND REVOLT by David Hare...I love to read everything I can about a playwright before I direct one of their plays so I am currently in a David Hare phase as I begin prep for directing THE VERTICAL HOUR at AGL next season. OS&R is a collection of lectures on theatre and politics and Hare's conviction that they go hand and hand. He is a provocative writer, one of the things I like best about THE VERTICAL HOUR is its unabashed point of view...Hopefully Lexington will dig it as well.

    LETTERS TO GEORGE by Max Stafford-Clark...when Stafford-Clark determined to direct Farquhar's THE RECRUITING OFFICER, he also decided to keep a rehearsal diary in the form of "Letters to George" (ie Farquhar, the long dead playwright). The production (1988) featured the wonderful Jim Broadbent and also served as the inspiration for Timberlake Wertenbaker's GREAT play OUR COUNTRY IS GOOD...Nice behind the scenes glance of a great director at the top of his game working at one of the great theatre's in the world, The Royal Court.

    THE NECESSARY THEATRE by Peter Hall...I love the Dramatic Context series, which are basically either lectures or position papers reprinted. I have several different works in the series and the latest is Hall's distillation of his current thinking on the state of theatre...Published in 1999, it undoubtedly could be updated. His two main arguments are 1) Theatre throughout the ages has always required public subsidy to thrive. (On a side note, I recently ran across an article that said per capita arts spending per citizen in the United States is less than $.50, while in Canada, it is approximately $4.50 per citizen and in Great Britain, it is approximately $24.50 per person...and Hall complains about a lack of subsidy in England!). His second argument centers around the need to have a permanent company of actors and technicians working in their own building for the best theatre to occur. As much as I like Sir Peter, I don't believe he is correct regarding the need for a resident company of actors. I am sort of torn about that in my own current thinking.

    Final current book is SHAKESPEARE: THE WORLD AS STAGE by Bill Bryson...very funny book that basically says we don't know shit about Shakespeare but we DO know more shit about Shakespeare relative to his contemporaries with the exception of Ben Jonson. Very entertaining book...

    I think that is enough for now!!

    Rick St. Peter

  4. I have read THE VOYSEY INHERITANCE and agree it is quite timely. I saw an impeccable production of Granville-Barker's WASTE a few years back, directed by our fav, Peter Hall, with Michael Pennington and Fecility Kendall, so I'm a firm Granville-Barker groupie. I now must read MADRAS HOUSE.

    I love what I have read or seen of Hare which is SKYLIGHT & AMY'S VIEW and his collaboration with Howard Brenton, PRAVADA. The Stafford-Clark book sounds fascinating. I enjoy rehearsal diaries a lot.

    Well, I certainly agree with Sir Peter regarding subsidized theatre and I think I lean toward a permanent company of actors, though with some ebb and flow to it. I think every once and awhile the faces and personalities have to change, go away-come back, or just revolve to a new core every so often (just like a baseball team) so things don't stagnate too much or the company doesn't become too inward or self-absorbed.

    But there is much to be said for a company of actors working together over a period of time, learning each other's strengths and weaknesses, habits and peculiarities, developing a short-hand, and seeing strong actors in smaller roles one week and then playing a lead the next. I like returning to companies to see familiar faces doing different roles. Very comforting in a way. I mourned Michael Byrant's loss along with the National when he died. He was a pillar of the National, in big roles and small. I had seen him play Heronimo in THE SPANISH TRAGEDY in 1982 and his last role as Firs in The Cherry Orchard in 2000 and several roles in between. It was a disappointment if I went over to England and he wasn't in something. Sometimes even companies who may not have the strongest line-up of actors use them well and the company can run like a well-oiled machine.

    As for Mr. Shakespeare...the conjecture on who he was, where he was from, and what he wrote runs rampant. You be surprised at the famous Shakespearean actors who are skeptics about the man from Stratford. My opinion: doesn't really matter who he was, we have his plays.

  5. Are you familiar with Naomi Wallace's work? She's a playwright friend of mine and originally from Louisville, Kentucky ... I think her work is simply awesome ... she got the MacCarthy Genius Grant in 99 ... I love a lot of her work, but in particular I'd point someone to ONE FLEA SPARE or IN THE HEART OF AMERICA ...

    In terms of books about theatre, it's been awhile, I remember liking Mamet's USES OF A KNIFE and TRUE OR FALSE, but I know both those books piss some of my theatre friends off ... I also have a fond place in my heart for AUDITION ... I read Neil Simon's two book autobiography and liked them a lot, much more than some of his plays.

  6. Joshua, Welcome! Naomi Wallace sounds very familiar to me, but I am not familiar with her work. Louisville I don't know as well as I should, being based in Central Kentucky where I went to school and having grown up in Northern Ky. near Cincinnati.

    But I suspect my colleague, Rick St. Peter, Artistic Director of Actors Guild, who is more up-to-date, on current playwrights than I, knows or has heard of her.(See Rick's comments above)

    I have both the Mamet books and particularly like the no nonsense of TRUE OR FALSE (I have to revisit USES OF A KNIFE). I think it is a great book for actors and writers...and I love that both books piss a lot of theatre folk off.

    I have one of Simon's bios but haven't read it.

  7. Cool man, check out Naomi's work ... she's a true artist (in my opinion, she'd blush if she knew I said that) ... I also like her play THE TRESTLE AT POPE LICK CRICK as well ... and THE WAR BOYS.

    You'd dig her work, I think. Plus she's a great person, to boot.

    And I believe I know you (internet-wise) through the Wordplay boards, right?

    I'm a playwright as well, though I do less of that these days and more of other types o' writing.

  8. I forgot to add, I picked up a book of essays by Mamet, I think called THE CABIN (I think, I'd have to look again), it was just about his early life, growing up and breaking in as a playwright back when New York was funky and cool and folks could live there cheap ... just essays on his life, basicaly, I found it at a used book story (autographed, too) and bought it for five bucks.

    Read it many a time since.

  9. An autographed copy for five bucks. Such book finds always sets my collector's heart aflutter.

    I don't know how long you've been on WORDPLAY, but my heavy years of participation were the late nineties and early 2000's, when I was on the board of the WGA and really in the thick of the business. I don't go there that much anymore because I think I pretty much shared all the worthy insights I have about screenwriting and found that I was repeating myself. All my musings there can be found in the archives. But I still recommend it as the best screenwriting site around.

    Unlike you, I'm being drawn more toward playwriting these days. I refer to myself as a struggling playwright/novelist whose day job is screenwriting.

    I'll keep an eye out for Ms. Wallace's work and maybe Rick will come here and let us know if he's familiar with her work at all.

  10. I saw many a post by you in the HOF at Wordplay, I went through and read all of 'em in the HOF.

    I wouldn't mind coming back to playwrighting, it's the most fun a person can have with their pants on, I truly enjoy it, but you can't really make a living at it (Shepard's words before mine) and now that I've got a kid, I really gotta think about that. I'm lucky in that I've had more than a few plays produced, but if folks know how little money a person gets from it, eek ... the nice thing about screenwriting is you do sometimes get paid well.

    It's a bit of an outrage, what playwright do or don't get paid, I think. But most of us started doing it, playwrighting, because it was fun and cool, not unlike starting a band in the garage, and not because of the money.

    I wrote a novel for the same reason, just because I love books, and now it's being sent around ... tough time to sell fiction, but sometimes you gotta write what comes out, no matter what, right?

  11. Yep, you gotta write what comes out...I always say, I "write to the passion". If I had taken every job I had been offered in Hollywood, I'd be a lot richer, but probably miserable. I could never take the money, if the project didn't speak to me in some way.

    As some playwright once said, "You can make a killing in the theatre, but not a living." The trade-off between film writing and the theatre writing has always been money and power. You get more money in film and no power; a playwright is supreme in the the theatre and has the power because he has not surrendered his copyright as in film, but unless he's got a hit, it's very tough to make the big dough.

    I hope my Hall of Fame posts in the Wordplay archives were of some help to you, there are hundreds if not thousands more in the archives. As I said in another of my blogs, it got quite addictive for awhile.

    Hope you're having some luck as a screenwriter. Are you based in LA or New York?

  12. All those posts were great ... the blogging world of writers is truly superb, a guy can get a graduate level education just by spending time on the internet ... remember in college when someone (like Maria Irene Fornes did for us) would come to your department and have a dialogue? We can do that every day, especially with screenwriters, all on the internet via blogs and forums. It's totally awesome, you know?

    I'm in New York, at least for now, though we're contemplating a move out west ... And I've been fortunate in that I got hired for at least one fairly known project (an adaptation for a book I truly loved) that a lot of folks like and I've had a couple other scripts optioned ... some of which I can't really get into on a public forum, but I have been lucky and I'm thankful for that.

    Interesting thing, after all that, I've gotten hired to write a script and people really like it, and optioned other stuff, but still haven't gotten an agent yet - lol!

  13. Hey, Rick, I'm curious. I thought you were for having a resident company of actors. In your post above, you seem to have backed off that position. Why?

    By the by, I'm enjoying the Royal Shakespeare Company book you lent me. Seems no matter what level you're at, there are always problems. "Why do we do it, Paul?"

  14. I had the privilege to act in two Vermont summer stock shows back in the 1970s with your wise and memorably voiced professor Charles Dickens. His dying saddened me, yet did not surprise, given his grief-stricken heart. I have always wondered whether his was the name his parents gave him. Do you happen to know?