Posts Tagged ‘rice players’

R.I.P. Neil “Sandy” Havens

May 5, 2022

There are a handful of people who change your life profoundly. I don’t know where my life would have taken me if I hadn’t met Sandy Havens when I was a freshman at Rice University in 1972. Sandy ran the Rice Players, an ambitious and highly respected theater company in Houston, especially remarkable because Rice has no theater department and all the theater activity is extracurricular.

Sandy was such a good director, steeped in the classics yet conversant in the latest developments in avant-garde theater, that the major newspapers in Houston routinely reviewed his student productions. Shortly after I arrived on campus as an 18-year-old Air Force brat majoring in classics (Greek and Latin), I auditioned for the Rice Players’ production of Charles Marowitz’s radical Shakespeare adaptation A Macbeth and got to play Duncan under Sandy’s adventurous direction.

That’s when I caught the theater bug. Sandy saw something in me and cast me in 7 of the 8 shows the Rice Players did in my first two years at Rice, which ran the gamut from Shaw’s Heartbreak House to A Man for All Seasons, from the musical Zorba! to Jeff Wanshel’s nutty absurdist comedy The Disintegration of James Cherry. By that point, I was so smitten with theater that, with Sandy’s blessing and coaching, I auditioned for several professional theater training programs and transferred to Boston University.

Ultimately I wasn’t a very good actor but I parlayed the passion for theater that Sandy instilled in me into a career as a theater critic, journalist, and scholar.

In addition, Sandy was extremely kind and supportive of me in the process of coming out at a time and place when that was not easy.

I got to hang out a little with Sandy in Boston when he lived there while his wife Helen finished divinity school; she would go on to become one of the first women ordained as an Episcopal priest. We communicated at intervals over the years, but I think the last time I saw Sandy was when I had a very warm visit with him and Helen in Houston in 1990. I’m just one of hundreds of people who benefited from Sandy’s brilliance as teacher, mentor, artist, and friend and who are mourning his death yesterday at the age of 88.

R.I.P.: Charles Marowitz

August 23, 2014

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.


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