A Director Calls

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Primarily intent on telling the story of how one director works, Wendy Lesser manages along the way to make salient observations as well on such topics as validity in interpretation and the economics of arts funding in A DIRECTOR CALLS. Best known to theatregoers for his dreamlike, noir production of J. B. Priestley’s THE INSPECTOR CALLS at Britain’ s Royal National Theatre in 1992—later seen on Broadway in a Tony Award-winning run—as well as for his 1993 revival of Sophie Treadwell’s expressionistic MACHINAL, Stephen Daldry is often criticized for putting stunning spectacle over intellectual substance. Collaborating with his designer and partner Ian MacNeil and composer Stephen Warbeck, Daldry creates works that are choreographed as much as directed, fusing word and sound and image to unearth the complexities in a text and to help incorporate the audience into the play.

Lesser recounts in detail Daldry’s rehearsal process for Ron Hutchinson’s poetic drama about the Irish question, RAT IN THE SKULL, and for a theater piece crafted verbatim from interviews called BODY TALK, to demonstrate the director’s ability to marry psychological depth to sensory stimulation. Although she personally privileges performance over script and declares that all of Daldry’s productions are immediately “recognizable” as his, Lesser is not quite ready to name him, despite the unifying vision he contributes, an auteur, because of his respect for the text’s integrity. She asserts that a director’s production, as an interpretation—though never the only possible one—must allow room for ambiguity, but can still be faulty if wrongheaded. And since art like Daldry’s carries, moreover, a high price tag, the theatergoing audience become further implicated by their “privileged sense of conspicuous consumption.”

Especially disappointing in a study of a visually-oriented director who paints such marvelous stage pictures, the book lacks any production photos to accompany Lesser’s extended descriptions.