Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Please Welcome Author Amnon Kabatchnik

Omnimystery News: Guest Author Post
by Amnon Kabatchnik

We are delighted to welcome author Amnon Kabatchnik as our guest today.

Amnon's fourth volume in his "Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection" series is Blood on the Stage: 1975-2000 (Scarecrow Press, September 2012 hardcover and ebook formats).

We asked Amnon to tell us how the series came about and what's next for him.

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As an author, I am often asked what triggered the books I wrote. When I reflect on what inspired me to create and compile the four volumes of the Blood on the Stage: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery and Detection Series (1900-1925; 1925-1950; 1950-1975; and 1975-2000) as well as Sherlock Holmes on the Stage: A Chronological Encyclopedia of Plays Featuring the Great Detective it is clear that these projects are the culmination of two of my life-long loves: reading and theatre.

Amnon Kabatchnik
Photo provided courtesy of
Amnon Kabatchnik

I was born in Tel Aviv. While my native tongue is right-to-left Hebrew, in my boyhood I learned the English language mostly through American movies and by wallowing in the paperbacks, with colorful, enticing picture covers, that came to Israel at the time. I began to dabble in the works of mystery writers Arthur Conan Doyle, Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, S.S. Van Dine, Erle Stanley Gardner, Earl Derr Biggers (I still remember vividly the cover of Biggers' Charlie Chan novel The Black Camel), and became hopelessly enamored with detective fiction.

At first a faithful reader, I gradually developed a yen for collecting books in the genre, a passion that has prevailed and mushroomed through the years. By now I have amassed an enormous collection of detective novels, short story volumes, anthologies, true crime, horror, studies and biographies in the field — and play scripts, many out of print. What began as a hobby to collect any book by key mystery writers became a relentless hunt for first editions in dust jackets and fine condition. (Whenever I move to a new dwelling, my first and utmost consideration is the wall space for book cases — not an inexpensive requirement in Santa Monica, where I live).

Since first grade, I have performed in school plays, and following high school, I appeared in a semi-professional theatre in Tel Aviv, named Zira (The Ring). My life took a sharp turn when an invitation came from an uncle who lived in Lowell, Massachusetts to come to the U.S. for my studies. I enrolled at Boston University as both a Journalism and Theatre major.

It so happened that BU had decided to revamp the theatre area, engaged an actor from Ireland's Abbey Theatre, Michael Laurence, to head a new, professionally oriented department — and Laurence cast me (foreign accent and all) in the title role of Hamlet in a show that inaugurated a newly purchased theatre. My humble efforts at BU brought me a Rodgers & Hammerstein Award, a thousand dollars that were very meaningful to a newcomer.

After receiving a BS degree in Journalism and Theatre (summa cum laude), my professors urged me to enroll at the Yale University School of Drama. My affinity toward plays of suspense — which appealed to me because of their strong plots; driving, relentless forward movement; issues of life and death; and nerve-wracking, heart-pumping climaxes — caused me to choose for my thesis productions such dramas as Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit at BU, and Jacinto Benavente's The Passion Flower at Yale (years later, both plays would be included in my book Blood on the Stage).

I garnered my MFA degree in Directing at Yale and came to New York City to practice the field I had studied. I was fortunate to land the position of Assistant Director at the Phoenix Theatre to internationally renowned directors Tyrone Guthrie (on Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart and Karel Capek's The Makropolous Secret) and Tony Richardson (on Ionesco's The Chairs and The Lesson), and from then on I proceeded to direct off-Broadway, national road companies, summer stock, university theatres, and abroad (in Canada and Israel, returning to my home town to stage plays for the Habimah National Theatre).

I directed dramas and comedies by Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, Luigi Pirandello, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Thornton Wilder, Lillian Hellman and scores of musicals, but whenever the opportunity came, my interest in the mystery play led me to choose such fare as Arsenic and Old Lace, Angel Street (Gaslight), The Cat and the Canary, The Mousetrap, Ten Little Indians, Dial "M" for Murder, Wait Until Dark, Night Watch, Bad Seed, The Heiress, Winterset, A Shot in the Dark, An Inspector Calls, Catch Me If You Can, Cliffhanger, and Dracula. A year or so ago I directed in New York a revival of the gothic thriller Ladies in Retirement for off-Broadway's Pulse Ensemble Theatre.

Blood on the Stage is a true labor of love. It combines my hobby of voracious reading of detective literature and my profession of directing plays. The project started years ago as a checklist of milestone plays in the genre and gradually developed into a full-scale endeavor. In the pursuit of old, out-of-print manuscripts and yesterday's newspapers and magazines, during the 1990s I traveled to a number of near and far libraries. Most helpful were the Olin and Uris libraries at Cornell University and the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, Manhattan, where I found the scripts of obscure old melodramas as well as such lost plays as the stage version of The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1912), a locked-room classic by Gaston Leroux (author of the original novel, The Phantom of the Opera).

Tracking the genre's lost plays became an enjoyable part of the project. I was delighted to discover Owen Davis' Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model (1906), arguably the most popular melodrama of its era, at the archives of the Center for Motion Picture Study in Beverly Hills, California, where I also unearthed the play Everybody Comes to Rick's (1940) by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, the basis for the movie Casablanca. At some point I dug some dusty play scripts at the old, now defunct bookstores in Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

A major surprise that I encountered upon the research trail were obscure, pirated dramatizations of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes adventure The Sign of Four, written and produced in America at the turn of the 20th century. I was also astonished by the large number of main-stream novelists, playwrights and poets who have mixed their ink with blood penning crime, mystery and detection plays. Among them are Great Britain's John Masefield, John Galsworthy, Somerset Maugham, John Osborne, Graham Greene, and the Americans Eugene O'Neill, John Steinbeck, Ayn Rand, William Saroyan, William Faulkner, Herman Wouk, Horton Foote, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams.

Also, unexpectedly, some show business celebrities joined the fray: George M. Cohan, Mae West, Raymond Massey, Emlyn Williams, Michael Redgrave, Robert Shaw, Dore Schary, Woody Allen, and Stephen Sondheim.

All these authors, and many more, are represented in the four volumes Blood on the Stage, 1900-1925; Blood on the Stage, 1925-1950; Blood on the Stage, 1950-1975, and the newly published Blood on the Stage, 1975-2000. The productions are arranged in chronological order and are all works of enduring importance, pioneering contribution, singular innovation, or outstanding success. The stories involve murder, theft, chicanery, kidnapping, espionage, or political intrigue. Each entry contains a plot synopsis, production data, and the opinions of well-known critics and scholars. The latest book includes an overview of such memorable psychological thrillers and baffling whodunits as Deathtrap by Ira Levin, Buried Child by Sam Shepard, American Buffalo by David Mamet, Agnes of God by John Pielmeier, A Soldier's Play by Charles Fuller, Beyond Reasonable Doubt by Jeffrey Archer, Hapgood by Tom Stoppard, A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin, Postmortem by Ken Ludwig, Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman, Killer Joe by Tracy Letts, and the musicals Chicago, Sweeney Todd, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera — altogether more than 80 plays produced in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Now that I have covered the development of the mystery play throughout the 20th century (four volumes, 2558 pages), I am embarking on a prequel that will cite the most important theatrical works of crime and punishment beginning with the ancient Greeks — whose stages were awash with blood — and culminating at the end of the 19th century, a sort of "from Oedipus, the first stage investigator, to Sherlock Holmes, the greatest."

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Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Amnon Kabatchnik received his BS degree in theatre and journalism from Boston University where he graduated summa cum laude, and won the Rodgers & Hammerstein Award.

Kabatchnik also holds an MFA degree in directing from the Yale School of Drama. He served as Professor of Theatre at several universities, including Stanford University and Ohio State University, and directed numerous dramas, comedies, thrillers and musicals for off-Broadway, national road companies, resident theatres, summer stock, and abroad.

In addition to the Blood on the Stage volumes, Kabatchnik is also the author of Sherlock Holmes on the Stage: A Chronological Encyclopedia of Plays Featuring the Great Detective.

Visit Amnon Kabatchnik online at AmnonKabatchnik.com.

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Blood on the Stage: 1975-2000 by Amnon Kabatchnik

Blood on the Stage: 1975-2000
Amnon Kabatchnik

Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery and Detection

Amnon Kabatchnik provides an overview of the most important and memorable theatrical works of crime and detection of this period. Continuing the work of his previous volumes (1900-1925, 1925-1950, and 1950-1975), Kabatchnik describes more than 80 full-length plays produced in the last quarter of the 20th century, with an emphasis on New York and London performances.

Arranged in chronological order, the productions are all works of enduring importance, pioneering contributions, singular innovations, or outstanding success. Many of the most notable playwrights of the era are represented, including Ariel Dorfman, Larry Gelbart, Ira Levin, David Mamet, Terence Rattigan, Reginald Rose, Sam Shepard, Stephen Sondheim, Aaron Sorkin, and Tom Stoppard. The stories involve murder, theft, chicanery, kidnapping, political intrigue, or espionage, with each entry including a plot synopsis, production data, and the opinions of well-known and respected critics and scholars.

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