These are probably out-dated, maybe even extinct. How long has it been since you owned a phone book? I'm not going to talk tech today. I was thinking of the praise often given to an actor in the days when these were current objects, that an actor was so good that he/she could read the phone book and make it interesting. Or a laundry list? And that of course, made me think of the writer who would offer such a challenge to an actor. Like Shakespeare. Remember Henry V?
After the battle of Agincourt, which became famous for the victory attributed to the archers of England, Prince Hal, now Henry V, speaks to his army, so much smaller than the French one, praising them for their achievement and listing by name the men who died (the titled ones, not the commoners) - one by one. It's a phone book list. I have heard it often and every actor who cites the list is moved and moving as if he had just lost some close friends. It takes an actor to bring it off. It also takes a writer to make it happen for him.
I can remember a scene in another play, more recent than Shakespeare, but not often performed now, where the actor must deliberately read names from a phone book as he types them into a document. I'm going to have to check this. ...I think it's Murray Schisgal.
Yup. He's still living! Ninety years old, born in 1926. The scene I remember is from one of the plays in a 1963 off-Broadway double bill , The Typists and The Tiger, for which Schisgal received the Drama Desk Award. I saw a production at the Manitoba Theatre Centre, I guess some time in the early 50s. John Hirsch trained his audiences well.
You will remember Schisgal. He wrote the movie Tootsie. I remember reading that there were so many writers, they had to decide who would get the credit for it. Schisgal won.
The laundry list image comes from something that was said by the popular and prolific composer Rossini (1792-1869). He once boasted that he could even set his laundry list to music (alternatively, "the laundress's list"). It would have been singable and glorious, I'm sure.
It helps if you're a genius.