The Tony Award–winning director gathers memories of people, productions, and problems surmounted from his fifty-year career in this one-of-a-kind how-to handbook.
What do directors do? Jack O’Brien, the winner of Tony and Drama Desk Awards and the former artistic director of San Diego’s historic Old Globe theatre, describes it like this: “You stand before a situation in which something is presented to you. You’re afforded a challenge. Like catching an enormous ball. And you respond. You come up with a vision of some kind. That is, if you respond to the material at all, and one must, or it’s doomed. You sort of feel that since you relate to the material at hand, you might as well try to be helpful.”
In Jack in the Box, O’Brien’s follow-up to his memoir Jack Be Nimble, the director collects stories from the many productions he has worked on, the great talents he encountered and collaborated with (including Tom Stoppard, Mike Nichols, Jerry Lewis, Marsha Mason, and many others), and the choices he made, on the stage and off, that have come to define his career. With humor, warmth, and contagious excitement, O’Brien takes the reader by the shoulder, pulls them in, and tells them how to become a director—or, at the very least, relates an unfailingly honest story of how he did.
Rapt observation, intuition, and the ability to win nervy battles with playwrights are necessities in the theater director's toolkit, according to this exuberant memoir. O'Brien, former artistic director of San Diego's Old Globe Theater, follows up on Jack Be Nimble with more showbiz wisdom both practical—he explains how positioning and moving actors can make a joke land or a speech resonate—and mystical: "It is the play itself that appears to assert, like the natural flow of water, its own organic truth." At the book's heart is its depictions of collaborations and arguments with other theater artists, like the mercurial director Mike Nichols; the charismatic but prickly playwright Tom Stoppard ("It was as if... some idiot from the street wandered in and just vomited it out,'" was his verdict on Ethan Hawke's rendition of a Stoppard soliloquy); and the even pricklier Neil Simon ("I was lying at the bottom of Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum... with Neil's distorted face above me, the blade coming ever slower, ever lower," he writes of being fired by the playwright). There are swollen, clashing egos here, but O'Brien presents them sympathetically and treats the wrangling as a necessary part of the creative process. The result is an entertaining, colorful, generous panorama of the stage and its luminaries. Photos.