Picks and Pans Review: Broadway Dreamers: the Legacy of the Group Theatre

updated 06/26/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/26/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Mon., June 26, 9 P.M. ET)

A

A 90-minute special about actors discussing their techniques sounds about as inviting as a weekend in Beijing. But this look at Lee Strasberg's Group Theatre, which existed from 1931 to 1941, makes for fascinating fare.

Host Joanne Woodward spent five years taping interviews with surviving members, including Harold Clurman and Stella Adler, who recall how their noble experiment in realistic acting—or Method—came about. Some are moved to real, non-Method tears as they recall their passionate devotion to an experiment, which was played out against the Depression and an oncoming global war. Providing funny counterpoint is Katharine Hepburn, who, in her pre-Hollywood days, attended an organizational meeting of the Group. She says she was horrified to hear everyone would have equal billing and be required to play small parts: "I wanted to be a big star, and I left." Although the Group failed to interest Hepburn, it did attract the likes of Franchot Tone, Frances Farmer, Sylvia Sidney and leftist playwright Clifford Odets, who wrote Awake and Sing! and Golden Boy for the troupe.

To understand American acting, or why so many actors mumble, don't miss this documentary, which features rare film clips of the Group's work, plus intelligent, probing questions by Woodward. (Steve Lawson wrote the script.) Subsequent American Masters programs will feature individual profiles of Clurman and Adler.

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