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March 21 , 2011

The Great Bordello. A Story of the Theatre


Published here for the first time, "The Great Bordello, A Story of the Theatre" (edited and with an afterword by Jack F. Sharrar) is by Jazz-Age playwright Avery Hopwood (1882-1928). Hopwood was the most successful playwright of his day, with four hits on Broadway at the same time in 1920. Set in the early decades of the twentieth century, "The Great Bordello" is a "roman a clef" that tells the story of aspiring playwright Edwin Endsleigh (Hopwood's counterpart), who, upon graduation from the University of Michigan, heads for Broadway to earn his fortune and the security to pursue his one true dream of writing the great American novel. Shaping Edwin's journey in the world of the theater is his love of three women: the beautiful, ambitious Julia Scarlet, whom he first meets in Ann Arbor; the emotionally fragile and haunting Jessamy Lee, and the very private and mysterious leading lady Adelina Kane, idol of the American stage. In the company of Edwin and his loves are an array of thinly-veiled representations of theatrical personages of the time, amongst them Daniel Mendoza, the exacting and powerful impresario, who controls the lives of his leading ladies; the goatish manager Matthew Lewis, who promotes Julia Scarlet as "the American Sarah Bernhardt"; the worldly-wise veteran of the stage, Ottilie Potter, who has gotten where she is because, "Men had what I wanted, and I had what they wanted"; and the huge, manlike Helen Sampson, chief among theatrical agents. Once described as "the most devastating expose of the American theatre as an institution imaginable," "The Great Bordello" provides a deeper understanding of the human desire to accomplish something of enduring value amidst commercial success and ruthless realities of life.

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