Alexis Greene’s authoritative biography of playwright/director Emily Mann narrates the life and artistic story of one of the most important people in contemporary American theatre since the Civil Rights era. Mann, the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, was the first woman to direct on the stage of the Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theatre, the first to become the artistic director of Princeton, NJ’s, McCarter Theatre, and the first to write plays that became known as “theatre of testimony.” The book chronicles her career in the American theatre at a historical moment when movements for racial, gender, and social justice, in Mann’s vision, gave it purpose and energy.
EMILY MANN also recounts Mann’s artistic determination and decisions in ways that illuminate all the important micro choices that allowed her to mount theatre productions that spoke into their cultural moment. Greene’s painstaking research allows her to recreate Mann’s landmark productions, many of which became central to American theatre history.
Most of all, EMILY MANN elegantly traces how Emily Mann became herself, and how her personal and political engagements with immigration, civil rights, anti-Semitism, feminism, and social justice became the palimpsest for her vital, indelible, inspiring artistic, professional, and personal life.
—Jill Dolan, Annan Professor of English and Theatre, Princeton University
In EMILY MANN: Rebel Artist of the American Theater, author Alexis Greene creates a compelling portrait of a contemporary artist, and a woman theater artist at that. Emily Mann is a perfect subject for Greene’s sensitive probing, extensive theatrical knowledge and elegant synthesis.
The book gives full attention to Mann’s triple roles in theater: as a director at major theaters across the country, on Broadway and at the smaller venues that feed artistic imagination; as an Artistic Director revamping a major regional theater, and as a sophisticated playwright addressing complex topics and infusing plays, especially in the documentary vein, with a new energy and sensibility. Mann’s accomplishments from the 1970s to the present, as described in the book, are all the more remarkable because she must maneuver the circles of power that have stubbornly excluded women.
The book is at its zenith when it delves into the artistic process of major Mann projects, whether Execution of Justice, Still Life, Having Our Say, or Gloria, tearing back the curtain and showing the delicate dances, endless challenges and fortuitous forward movements. Seeing how Mann finds Houdini-like solutions with a combination of creative problem-solving and persistence is fascinating. Greene’s portrayal is a reminder that in theater, as in life, inventiveness and vision need to be matched with determination and dexterity. The book offers much-needed inspiration and hope to everyone who pursues a career in drama or steps inside a theater to experience the show.