The younger poet beds blondes and bets on horses. The older one loves baseball and Manhattan. Sons of immigrants and refugees from failed marriages, Milton Klonsky and Delmore Schwartz banter, reminisce, trade insults, mourn, and fantasize in Romulus Linney’s Klonsky and Schwartz—a literate, sophisticated couple but more Felix and Oscar than Vladimir and Estragon.
This is a real-life pairing not of equals but of mentor and protégé, if not tormentor and tormented. Schwartz, already a literary nabob, promptly insults Klonsky when they first meet at the Gotham Book Mart. Later, he will remind Klonsky that “nobody will remember you, without me!” As long as the paranoid brilliant poet lives, he stifles Klonsky’s Parnassian dreams in which begin his writerly responsibilities. Painfully aware of this, Klonsky resents Schwartz but nonetheless tries his best to keep him standing through a wildly careening career, fueled as much by meds as by the muse. Linney adds a homoerotic layer when he has Klonsky mouth the lines of Schwartz’s alienated wife, who also complains about being bullied.
Chris Ceraso as Klonsky and William Wise as Schwartz are real pros who take us adroitly through the twists and turns of their characters’ flawed humanity. We learn, for instance, that Schwartz loved wordplay but was smart enough to know that a poet does not live by pun alone. Hugely entertaining, the play portrays vividly the agonies and joys of this relationship but tells us little about the link between Schwartz’s works and his dybbukim. Perhaps that’s for the better: Linney thankfully is no academic and lets Delmore Schwartz’s words lie refulgent in their lucid mystery.