The Federal Theatre Project, which was conceived so that out-of-work stage people could survive the Depression, had within its ranks, at various times: Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray, John Huston, Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon, Bil Baird, and a cast of thousands of others, unknowns and luminaries and the future famous. All worked together, drawing on vast reserves of energy, ingenuity, and talent, and it is the spirit of that magnificent cooperation which informs this handsomely designed, stirring book. The units, spread across the face of America, ranged from a Gary, Indiana children's circus to "living newspapers" in Manhattan to vaudeville troupes in Los Angeles and Chicago. A black unit in Seattle performed Lysistrata ; also on the West Coast, a marionette group put on The Emperor Jones ; back in New York, a class-conscious animal fable drew the wrath of the critics and was later to serve as "evidence" when the House Un-American Activities Committee was trying to ferret out "Communist control of the FTP." For those involved, it was a time of innovation, and many of the participants "dreamed of creating a continuing national theatre out of the theatre relief project." Or, in the words of one, "it kept alive possibilities." But the show didn't go on.
However, we can be grateful for what we have at hand: a richly filled souvenir program. The editors' selection of costume and set designs, posters, rehearsal and performance stills, and reminiscences from FTP alumni combine to give the reader a front-row seat. (New Republic Books, $29.95; paperback, $11.95)