Book Week: "Theater Geek" by Mickey Rapkin

Already whipped through your summer reading materials? No worries. All week, Jackalope Ranch contributors will review candidates for your nightstand. Have a suggestion for us? Leave it in the comment section. Today: Mickey Rapkin's Theater Geek.

For a supposed meritocracy, America is filled with all sorts of secret societies. Even if they're not strictly closed to outsiders, potential members must at least have be aware of their existences (and be able to afford tuition) to work their ways in. If you want to be president, history tells us you need to get to an Ivy League college. If you want to get in the business side of the film industry, go to Wesleyan.

And if you want to become an actor, it turns out, it's practically compulsory to put in a few summers at Stagedoor Manor.

The "premier summer theater camp for children and teenagers," Stagedoor Manor is the subject of GQ editor Mickey Rapkin's new book, Theater Geek.

An expensive camp in the Catskills, Stagedoor Manor has attracted a growing rash of celebs-in-training, from Natalie Portman to Robert Downey Jr., Zach Braff to Mandy Moore, and Jon Cryer to Bryce Dallas Howard. There, they hone their craft not by studying, but by doing: by actually acting out plays.

And that's not all: Stagedoor is apparently just as much a playground for the children of the rich and famous these days as it for aspiring thespians. In one particularly dishy aside, a staffer recalls Jacob Bernstein and Jennie Eisenhower performing in the same show one summer. That, folks, is Carl Bernstein's son -- and Richard Nixon's granddaughter. That's a kind of detail you can't even make up.

And fortunately for readers, Rapkin doesn't make up his details. He doesn't have to. It's a fascinating setting for theater geeks across the country to put on a show with other theater geeks. It's a place where loving Stephen Sondheim makes you the proverbial Prom Queen rather than the well, geek. And it's a place where, increasingly and bittersweetly, ambitious kids go to find an agent and become a star.

By profiling three kids in their final summer at camp, Rapkin finds a narrative thread to lead the story along, but you'll care less about his three protagonists than you will about the gossip he dishes. Each page has a little treat in it for regular US Magazine readers: Bijou Phillips got kicked out of Stagedoor Manor? One of Demi Moore's kids got waitlisted????

Really, the most interesting part of the book is the history. Like New York before it was gentrified, Stagedoor Manor was less a rich person's playground and more, well, screwed up.

Rapkin doesn't condescend to his subjects, but he wisely doesn't take the place too seriously -- either in its hilariously scary 70s incarnation or its shiny, expensive modern heyday. This is showbiz, and the book is a breezy, engaging, and ultimately kind-hearted look at the geeks who summer at Stagedoor and the adults who make their plays possible. Like any good beach read, you won't be able to put it down.

Want more? Come back tomorrow, and check out Chow Bella all week for food-related books.