From the deep archives: Performance Diary 9/2/84

June 13, 2012

September 2 – Last night Stephen and I went to see Jeff Weiss at the Performing Garage. Harry Kondoleon joined us, along with Patricia Benoit and her German boyfriend Mark. I gave Harry a tape I’d just finished making for him with many songs he’d requested (Sheila E’s “The Glamorous Life,” Cyndi Lauper’s “She-Bop,” “99 ½,” etc. – he ever so casually asked for things to be in a certain order, which I always take to be firm requests, Harry knows exactly the way he wants things but is a little embarrassed by the force of his will and tries to disguise or downplay it). The running refrain on the tape is Bette Davis saying “She liked it,” from Baby Jane. I called the tape “Labor Day Request Concert.” Harry told me that once he was listening to one of my tapes are rehearsal for The Fairy Garden and John Glover grabbed the Walkman and said, “What are you listening to?” It was just then that the tape was going from the Butthole Surfers (“There’s a time to shit and a time to pray…”) to Frank Sinatra singing with children. John Glover gave it back with a look of horror – Harry was secretly glad to counter Glover’s aggressiveness with something shocking, but he realized the weirdness of him sitting in rehearsal placidly listening to these insane juxtapositions.

Andy Jackness’s set for Harry Kondoleon’s play THE FAIRY GARDEN at the Second Stage Theatre

Jeff Weiss’s show was pretty crazy, too – another version of And That’s How the Rent Gets Paid, this time acted out by a full cast (the first time we saw this, he did all the parts himself – I remember that night vividly, also at the Garage, Tom Waits was there looking autistic), including several Wooster Group people, plus a bunch of really hunky actors, including an amazingly tall (possibly seven-foot) actor named Sturgis Warner who made me dizzy just to look at him, gorgeous, muscular, handsome in a Peter Evans sort of way. The show was a sort of detective caper, with Ron Vawter as a detective tracking down the Finnish gymnast who’s been killing people – of course it’s Connie Gerhardt (Jeff Weiss) imitating a Finnish gymnast. The sick thing about the story is that everyone starts imitating Connie’s pickup lines – the detective acts them out with his teenage songs in grab-ass sessions in the garage. (More kissing, wrestling, and groping – all gay – in this show that any I can remember.) The underlying story was the pathology and tragedy of real actors, with so many personalities trapped inside them – also the personal tragedy for Jeff Weiss of aging, of having worshiped youthful physique and maintaining it unnaturally into his 50s, now crumbling and sweating out time. The most moving, chilling, also bathetic moment was a scene on a bus after a wrestling match when Connie is thinking aloud to a young wrestler (actually his own son, long ago conceived with a lesbian so they could get welfare, named Narcissus) and begging him to run away with him and love him.

Jeff Weiss and Sturgis Warner

At intermission we stood out on the street. A rather bizarre homely straight couple stood against the wall making out and playfully imitating the pickup lines from the play. Three people passing by picked their way through the crowd on the sidewalk and one guy said, “This is like theater in the live.” We chatted a little with Patrick Merla, who was in the audience. He has crossed eyes, very disconcerting to deal with, and an incredibly queeny voice but in some ways he looks very charismatic with his leonine mane and grand manner. While talking to us, he waved at someone and imperiously called, “Come over here.” It was Keith McDermott, a former boyfriend of Edmund White’s who was in the show.

Jeff Weiss reminded me a little of James Leo Herlihy, whom I finally met when Stephen and I went to dinner with him, Joe Frazier, and John Tveit (Joe’s organist friend) in San Francisco. I was surprised to find that I liked Jamie a lot – perhaps because unlike most famous people he didn’t simply grab center stage and hold forth – he was very solicitous and personable. We quickly got into a conversation about altering sex habits to avoid AIDS. He confided that what he loved doing more than anything in the world was sucking cocks, and he’d decided not to do it so often and not to swallow cum anymore. He said whenever the possibility of sex arises, he always finds an excuse to go to the bathroom or be alone for a few minutes to ask himself if this encounter is really worth it – worth the emotional effort as well as possible health risk, or is it just a meaningless impulse – and he finds himself deciding against it more often than in the past. He recently sat by and watched his mother died from cancer, and his roommate/boyfriend in LA has AIDS.

Tallulah Bankhead and James Leo Herlihy

Jamie had a little notebook which he kept taking out to jot down felicitous phrases, even though Stephen says he’s given up writing. He was very impressed (and a little envious) to hear that I’d written my Shepard biography in six weeks while recovering from hepatitis. He loves Sam Shepard, loves movie-star bios. I told him the story Bill Kleb told me about Shepard peeing in a prop toilet during class, and Jamie insisted that I put it in the book – otherwise I would be doing a disservice. “This book is in part a love letter,” he said, “telling Sam Shepard you’re fascinating, you’re talented, you’re pretty, and so on. But it’s also a mirror – you have to say ‘And then there’s this!’ Stars want you to do that.” He said it’s demeaning to be “nice” in one’s writing. He quoted Tolstoy saying “The two things a writer needs are a dirty mind and a good sense of gossip.” He was very encouraging and flirtatious without being overbearing. He described his ass as looking like “a pair of used tea bags.” His second play Crazy October, which he ended up directing, starred Tallulah Bankhead, Estelle Winwood, and Joan Blondell – how unimaginable!

Three pictures of me taken within the space of three weeks in 1984

2 Responses to “From the deep archives: Performance Diary 9/2/84”

  1. Cal Gough Says:

    Wow, Don, what a blast from zee past! All those gay playwrights you’ve known! And those adorable photos of you. Thanks for hauling this out of ye deep archives and sharing!


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