Stella Adler on America's Master Playwrights edited and with commentary by Barry Harris; Knopf, 385 pages ($27.95).
Probably the commonest pre- "Godfather" film clip shown of Marlon Brando's early film career was that moment in Elia Kazan's film of "A Streetcar Named Desire" in which Brando, in a torn T-shirt at the bottom of the stairs, yells up at his wife in their apartment "STELLA!!!" Those who noticed the primal wail of it all could attribute it in part to the simple fact that Brando's most important acting teacher was probably Stella Adler of the Yiddish Theater's famed Adler family (Luther is her brother), the only famous American apostle of the Method to actually study with Stanislavsky and the other tine with rival and exact contemporary Lee Strasberg in the fork that sank so deeply into the acting techniques of American actors after the '50s.
What's crucial to understand about Adler - especially in contrast to Strasberg - is the full extent of Adler's theatrical culture. These lectures from her acting classes confirm her core belief that "the most important thing you can teach actors is to understand plays." It is, of course, the most important thing you can teach critics and audiences too - not to mention stage hands, lighting technicians etc.
These are her lectures on the American playwrights so pivotal in the last century - Eugene O'Neill, Clifford Odets, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, William Inge, William Saroyan and Thornton Wilder.
Adler's interpretation of Stanley Kowalski, the character immortally played by her most famous student Brando (others included Robert De Niro and Anthony Quinn) is that Stanley was a typical post-war kind of figure. "Lust and brutality are the postwar standards. It takes a long time to get over wars . Stanley represents the seductive, destructive male force, born of primitive instincts. Blanche represents the aristocracy of mind, clinging to her strength in judgment."
Adler was, for a time, married to the great critic and Group Theater co-founder Harold Clurman. One wonders if the often imperious Strasberg would be equally impressive. - Jeff Simon