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June 13, 1963, Vol. VIII, No. 34
The Theatre of Psychodrama
By John Wilcock
Walter Allen’s main problem with women has usually been that he wants to assume the submissive role. We went to the Theatre of Psychodrama together recently, and when Professor Richard Korn called for volunteers from the audience, Walter agreed to play out some of the unhappy incidents in his recent relationships.
Prompted by Dr. Korn and assisted by a girl he chose from the audience, Walter tried to get “Rebecca” a taxi on a wet night. To ascertain exactly how the incident had developed originally, Walter and Rebecca were frequently asked to reverse roles. “Okay, Walter,” Korn would say, “Now you’re Rebecca. Order Walter around in exactly the way you remember it happened.” Or: “Walter, be Rebecca for a moment and put into words what she must have been thinking.”
This very successful psychodrama technique enables the participants to reenact the original roles as accurately as possible. And very quickly, Walter found out that he wasn’t merely “acting” as he’d intended but was as involved as he had been when the incident had first taken place.
And so the story unfolds. An incident at Rebecca’s apartment ends with her telling Walter to move out. He accepts it placidly but with the resigned air that all women eventually fail to keep their bargain. “But it was pleasing to be held at arm’s length and never really attain her,” he comments revealingly.
Change of locale onstage as Dr. Korn has an objective consultation with “Dr. Who” (the analyst in Walter) played by Walter as objectively as he can.
Dr. Who: “Walter thinks of himself as a tragic hero — sensitive, creative, and would-be perfect except, like Hamlet, for one tragic flaw.”
Dr. Korn: Can you act out one of Walter’s day-dreams? For the purposes of this Rebecca will be a robot. She will be absolutely positive and will do exactly as you say.”
Walter acts out an imaginary incident in which he meets Rebecca, buys her a drink, takes her to his apartment to read his poetry, and seduces her. Korn: “Did it ever happen like that?” Walter: “No.”
And now the descent into a lower level of subconscious, symbolically assisted at the Theatre of Psychodrama by lowering the lights. Back to the days of just after birth. Another girl from the audience plays mother, Walter with head in her lap.
Walter: “I like it. I don’t want to grow up. I adore it: Just keep father away. I want this to go on endlessly.”
Lights back on, another consultation with Dr. Korn. “The world says you’re not a baby, though; you’re 27. What do you do now?”
Walter: I’d like to go back.”
Korn, to the women in the audience: “Is there one of you who wants to look after a 27-year-old baby who will do everything you want and fulfill all your needs as long as you feed and look after him?”
First girl: “Unfortunately, too much of me wants to do that.”
Second girl: “For a little while I’d want that, but I’d get bored with it.”
Third girl: “I don’t want a big baby: I want a little baby.”
Fourth girl: “I want what Walter wants the other way around. I want somebody to look after me.”
The first woman acts out a relationship with Walter for a while — does his bidding, takes charge and runs things (including him) in return for his witty, charming self and constant presence. She gets so emotionally involved in the part when this feminine role finally gets to her that she ends up actually striking Walter onstage and telling him not to be
Walter, with a resigned air after the slapping: “I could have predicted that would happen. Women are always the same; they always renege on their bargain.”
Korn: “The dominant female and the submissive male have this in common — they are both very lonely. Where do you go from here?”
Walter: “I read and pass away the time until I find another girl I can beguile for a longer period.”
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956. John Wilcock is still going strong at his website, Ojaiorange.com. And at Amazon, you can order his new autobiography, Manhattan Memories.]