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While working as a theater critic for Manhattan's New York Press in 1996, novelist Sarah Schulman reviewed the original off-Broadway production of the eventual worldwide hit Rent. She did not particularly like the show and resented what she saw as its easy and simple-minded appropriation of the East Village's gay and alternative cultures. It was only later, when a friend pointed it out to her, that she began to see that the writer and composer of Rent, Jonathan Larson, had "borrowed" a good chunk of his play's plot and detail from Schulman's own 1987 novel People in Trouble. This shock of recognition was transformative, and it ultimately led to the writing of Stagestruck.
Schulman begins with an unhappy account of having her novel ripped off by Larson, but uses this as a springboard to discuss the broader and more complex issues of how gay themes--particularly AIDS--are used and distorted in mainstream culture, focusing her discussion on a wide range of entertainments including the film Philadelphia, Jon Robin Baitz's play A Fair Country, performances by Diamanda Galas, and POZ magazine. As in her best novels, Schulman's observations on culture and politics are astute and startlingly original. Stagestruck is an incisive and important work of social criticism. --Michael Bronski [via]