The low-rent talk-show host Joe Franklin was kind of a joke but definitely a legend. I feel some residual warmth toward him because he had me on his show once, to talk about my second book, Caught in the Act: New York Actors Face to Face (a collaboration with photographer Susan Shacter). I sat on the sofa in a loud teal shirt from International Male and chatted with two very young unknown actors about breaking into show biz. Joe Franklin’s death actually conjures fond memories of Marilyn Lipsius, the late great publicist who was a friend of mine and who very generously set up my appearance and hired a car to take us out to the studio in New Jersey where the show was shot. I have the show on video somewhere, but I no longer have a machine that plays VHS tapes. Perhaps just as well.
Archive for the 'R.I.P.' Category
Reading the latest issue of American Theatre magazine, I belatedly discovered that Charles Marowitz died May 2 at the age of 80 from Parkinson’s disease. Marowitz was an American-born director, playwright, critic, and all-around man of the theater with whom I intersected at two significant moments in my life. In the first month of my freshman year at Rice University, I auditioned for the campus theater company the Rice Players’ production of A Macbeth, Marowitz’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, and was cast as Duncan. (Can you say boy-king? I believe there was a lot of Streaks and Tips involved, and my first beard.) Marowitz created a kind of collage out of Shakespeare’s text, rearranging and repeating scenes and inviting a highly abstract production style, which is what appealed to Sandy Havens, the Rice Players’ adventurous director. For instance, in the first murder scene of the play, the three witches held me down while Lady M guided Macbeth’s sword as he stabbed me to death — not your usual way of playing that scene!
I’d never heard of Charles Marowitz before that, but he entered my young impressionable mind as a titan of the theater. It was only fitting, then, that when I started making my way in the world as a theater journalist (after graduating from Boston University with a BFA in acting) my first publication in a scholarly journal was an interview with Marowitz in Yale’s excellent Theater magazine. Joel Schechter was the editor then, and Colette Brooks was his trusty second-in-command. Marowitz had written a play about Antonin Artaud’s stint in a mental hospital, Artaud at Rodez, and it was getting its American premiere at Brandeis University. I’d just started writing theater reviews and features for the Boston Phoenix, under the tutelage of Carolyn Clay, and it meant a lot to me to get the assignment to meet with Marowitz and hear him talk about his engagement with Artaud, one of 20th century theater’s more enigmatic visionaries. The play wasn’t great (mostly I remember joking with Carolyn, trying to come up with a headline for her Phoenix review — “Society Steps on Artaud” was obviously too good to actually appear in the paper) but I treasured meeting the man (below). He lived up to his reputation as a sharp, opinionated intelligence.
Today I am remembering my friend Bob Boyle, who would have turned 64 today. Bob was an actor and singer whom I met when we were both volunteers with Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Aside from being crisis management partners (visiting, bringing food to, shopping and doing laundry for people with AIDS) and team leaders, we traveled, marched, sang, laughed, cried, went to the theater, and loved a lot. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1986, and his health was fine for a couple of years. On his 39th birthday in 1989, his friend Susan Drew and I took him out for dinner to Cafe des Artistes. In the taxi on the way back to his apartment in Manhattan Plaza, he started acting strangely. He began slurring his speech and struggling to find words. It turned out that he had a brain tumor. He’d been taking AZT, which at that time was prescribed at dosages that later seemed massive, and it had caused lymphoma. Within days he’d lost the ability to walk, talk, or feed himself. He died May 16, at the age of 39. That was 25 years ago, and the emotions generated in those days are never far from the surface for me.
While I was out of the country, the great American stage actress and Mabou Mines co-founder Ruth Maleczech died September 30 at the age of 74. I had the pleasure of watching her work for more than 30 years and give memorable performances in productions staged by JoAnne Akalaitis (Kroetz’s Through the Leaves for Mabou Mines, Genet’s The Screens for the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis), Peter Sellars (Velimir Khlebnikov’s Zangezi), and most especially her longtime partner Lee Breuer (Hajj, An Epidog). She had an unforgettable, striking visage, with her flaming red hair and gap-toothed grin (Ben Brantley’s generous obituary in the New York Times mentioned one critic describing her as “a Technicolor Lucy on a binge”).
Beyond being phenomenally talented, she was kind, loving, and extremely honest. I got to interview her a number of times for articles about Mabou Mines in the Soho News, American Theatre magazine, and the New York Times. I remember being extremely touched hearing her talk about the sacrifices she’d made to be the uncompromising artist she was.
“The children have paid dearly,” she said, referring to the son (Lute Ramblin) and daughter (Clove Galilee) she had with Breuer. “They’ve paid with lack of time, lack of parent input when they need it, having to be sick at home alone sometimes when it would be nicer if somebody was there with you. They pay with not having things that their friends have, objects, you know, property. They pay by living in a very dangerous neighborhood because that’s the one that can be afforded. Sometimes I think the kids just look at you and think you’re a real asshole because you blew it. Especially in the ’80s. These are not the times to be a poor, struggling artist. It tends to be that when they need something really badly and there’s no money for them to have it, it just feels bad. Other times that doesn’t seem to be the most important thing. Sometimes they think it’s great because you do it.”
Happy birthday to Harry Kondoleon, who would have been 58 today. Sadly, he was a casualty of the AIDS epidemic who died in 1994 at the age of 39. A blazingly original writer and unforgettably eccentric character, he is best-known for such plays as ZERO POSITIVE, CHRISTMAS ON MARS, and SELF TORTURE AND STRENUOUS EXERCISE, as well as his fiction (DIARY OF A LOST BOY). Actors who appeared in premieres of his work include Frances McDormand, David Hyde Pierce, Harriet Harris, Kristine Nielsen, and Michael O’Keefe. You can download a free PDF of his play THE BRIDES here.