Another discovery thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team. A hilarious story that I recommend to those who love the world of theatre as much as I do.
Give My Regards to Nowhere: A Director’s Tale by Richard Engling
Chicago director Dwayne Finnegan has a long shot at the big time and only two obstacles: himself and everyone he knows.
Dwayne’s got an idea of how to direct Shakespeare’s least-favorite play that could set him on the road to Broadway. We’re talking Bob Fosse choreography, Jimi Hendrix guitars, and the hottest cast in the city of Chicago. But when the show’s producer cuts out with the cash, Dwayne decides to produce the show himself, putting his marriage and his meager finances at risk. What could go wrong?
About the author:
Richard Engling is a Chicago actor, playwright, and novelist, whose books include the novels, GIVE MY REGARDS TO NOWHERE: A DIRECTOR’S TALE, VISIONS OF ANNA and BODY MORTGAGE, and the collection of plays, ANTIGONE AND MACBETH: ADAPTATIONS FOR A WAR-TORN TIME. His plays also include GHOST WATCH and ANNA IN THE AFTERLIFE and have been produced in Chicago and elsewhere. https://www.amazon.com/stores/author/B001KDVOAQ/about
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.
I had no previous knowledge of the author of this novel, although from his biography it is evident that he has plenty of experience in the world of theatre, especially Chicago theatre, in different roles, and as I have an interest in theatre and drama, as a spectator, student, and reader of plays, and in Shakespeare plays in particular, I couldn’t pass the occasion to check this out.
I was lucky to see an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus at Sussex University many years back. I don’t remember it in detail, but despite this being one of the least well-liked and more controversial of the bard’s plays, I found it very moving and loved it, as much as one can love a play with murder, revenge, betrayal, rape, and cannibalism among its themes. So, the fact that the plot of the novel involved the staging of a modernised version of Titus Andronicus, with rock music, choreography, dance, and an alternative casting challenging preconceptions and racism running through the play (two African-American actors play two of the most important roles), added to the interest for me. And although I don’t know much about the Chicago theatre scene, the author is well-versed on the subject, as many of the reviewers have noted, so that was the cherry on the cake for me.
The main protagonist, the director of the play, Dwayne Finnegan, discovers that the main actor -and one of the motors behind the idea- has dropped it, but, with some encouragement from his wife, Angela, he decides to carry on. He is a theatre lover, well-intentioned but ambitious, and not beyond telling a lie (or three) to get his way. Although Dwayne is the main character, and his long-suffering wife, Angela, a teacher not directly involved in this world, also plays an important role (and is a fabulous character), this is an ensemble novel, very much like a repertoire theatre company, full of memorable characters: Dwayne’s friends and reluctant investors, Chaz and Aleister (one who helps and one who mostly hinders the proceeds while getting himself into trouble at the same time), Tom, choreographer, friend, inspiration and supporter, the cast of players: Coco, not always likeable but a force of nature and a woman who knows what she wants; an older star going through a crisis but a great actor nonetheless; an upcoming new actor full of existential doubts who needs to move beyond his preconceptions; a young actress whose plight mimics what happens in the play (and some of the themes and motifs of the play are revisited upon the cast members in one way or another); a musician who doesn’t always remember his role in the play; some other colourful individuals, like the owner of the theatre, for whom dates and times are a moveable feast… Most of all, I loved Joan, the stage manager, and Ingrid, who started as the set designer and ended up becoming so much more. Both are amazing.
There is plenty of comedy and even slapstick (electroshocks and all. Don’t ask, you’ll have to read the novel), and some might get a bit repetitive after a while, especially Dwayne’s invocations of a variety of Saints and religious motifs to express his amazement, surprise, annoyance, horror… but, let’s say that by the end we get to understand that he is, perhaps, as peculiar and original are Joan and Ingrid are, in his own special way.
The novel is written in the third person, in chronological order, from Dwayne’s point-of-view, and it takes the reader through the whole process of creation, rehearsals, performances, and the aftermath. The writing is dynamic, easy to follow, and contains just enough detail for theatre lovers to enjoy it without the action getting bogged down or slowed with unnecessary trivia.
I don’t want to reveal too much, but I’ll only say that I enjoyed the ending, and I think most readers will be happy with it as well. I was also pleased to read that there might be more adventures for Dwayne (and I hope the whole company) in the future, and I’d love to read them.
If I had to make a suggestion to the author it would be to, perhaps, add a cast of characters, which might be helpful as well if there are future novels involving the company, both to refresh the memory of those who had read the first one and to familiarise new readers with the Psychedelic Dream Theater.
Especially recommended to those who like the theatre and are curious about how things work backstage, those who enjoy novels with a large and varied cast of characters, and anybody who appreciates slapstick, Shakespeare, and stories with a heart.
Thanks to Rosie and her team for their support, thanks to the author for this fun story, and thanks to all of you for reading, sharing, commenting, and, don’t forget to always keep smiling.