Most people know the work of theater director Julie Taymor, if they know it at all, from her hit adaptation of Walt Disney's The Lion King for the Broadway stage. But this gorgeous book, a pictorial history of the artist's career, demonstrates that for the past 25 years Taymor has been creating original works of theater that combine a stunning visual sense with an extensive knowledge of the performance styles of many countries outside the West. Theater critic and scholar Eileen Blumenthal has followed the work of Taymor almost since its very beginnings, and her lengthy critical assessment of this inspired artist's work combines interviews with the director with a cogent analysis of her intellectual development and cultural sources.
From her days as a teenager studying the people and theater of Bali to her travels in Japan, Europe, and then back to New York, Taymor has reveled in the cross-fertilization of different images and ideas from a wide variety of countries. Her critically lauded piece The Transposed Heads, for example, was adapted from a Thomas Mann novella that was itself based on an ancient Indian folktale. Unlike most directors, Taymor came from the world of the designer, and it was her exquisite work creating costumes, masks, and puppets that first launched her into work in the theater. But gradually she gained the respect of actors as well, and now is regarded as a director of uncommon sensitivity, who can pull performances from a cast that match in intensity her phenomenal visual eye.
Lavishly illustrated with color and black and white photographs, this is a fitting tribute to a woman who, still in her 40s, is nothing short of a theatrical prodigy. As Taymor moves further into the world of commercial theater and film (her upcoming cinematic production of Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange and adapted from her own stage production of Titus Andronicus, opens soon), more audiences than ever will be treated to her extraordinary work. --John Longenbaugh