City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. Although best known as a non-fiction writer and the author of the you-go-girl bestseller "Eat, Pray, Love," Gilbert has also written several novels and her latest is centered around an off-Broadway theater in the 1940s that is home to a motley crew of misfits led by a lesbian version of Auntie Mame. Or at least that's what the best half of the book is about. The story peters out whenever the location shifts but the hard-partying show girls, moody writers and show-must-go-on actors make for good company and an easy summer read.
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russell. This graphic novel tranposes the Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters into the theater world of the 1950s when the House Un-American Activities Committee was on the prowl. Arthur Miller and Lillian Hellman make cameo appearances but the titular theater-loving mountain lion steps in for Tennessee Williams and anchors a story about the committee's oppression of homosexuals. It's an offbeat but still moving way to look back at that reign of terror.
Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr. The one-time theater critic for The New Yorker won a National Book Award for this biography when it came out in 2014 and it’s easy to see why. The book not only provides an intimate (at times too intimate) chronicle of the playwright’s life but also analyzes each of the more than three dozen plays he wrote. As Lahr tells it, Williams drank too much, was sexually obsessive, fretted constantly about his reputation and experienced several nervous breakdowns but he never stopped writing. And although his later plays may suffer in comparison to his early masterpieces, glimpses of Williams' brilliance can be found in those works and in the letters he exchanged with his wide circle of friends and from which Lahr wisely quotes extensively.