Obies

A Brief History of Off-Broadway, 1955–1985

A special supplement — with selections from 30 years of the Voice — dedicated to the artists of Off-and Off-Off-Broadway.

by

“The Golden Days of American Theater”

May 21, 1985

On May 20, the Obies celebrate their 30th birthday. This special supplement, with selections from 30 years of the Voice and reminiscences by many of the major figures of the American theater, is dedicated to the artists of Off-and Off-Off-Broadway.

1955

WAITING FOR GODOT
“I have not seen Waiting for Go­dot nor read the text, but of course I have come across a good many reviews of it, and heard more than a little in its favor and disfavor. What amuses me is the deference with which everyone is approaching Beckett, and the fault of course, the part which is sad, is that none of the celebrators of Beck­ett have learned anything from Joyce… But at the very least, the critics could have done a little rudimentary investigation into the meaning of the title, and the best they have been able to come up with so far is that Go­dot has something to do with God. My congratulations. But Godot also means Hot Dog, or the dog who is hot; and it means God-O, God as the female princi­ple, just as Daddy-O in Hip means the father who has failed, the man who has become an O, a vagina. Two obvious dialectical transpositions on Waiting for Godot are To Dog the Coming and God Hot for Waiting, but anyone who has the Joycean habit of thought could add a hundred subsidiary themes.” — Norman Mailer 

THE THREEPENNY OPERA
“There are two shows, really, at the Theatre de Lys. One has a cast of 20 ebullient and engag­ing actors and actresses.… The other show has a cast of one, and her name is Lotte Lenya. Miss Lenya is, as you know, not merely the widow of Kurt Weill but the original Jenny of the original Berlin production of Dreigroschenoper. For rea­sons of plot, she is hardly seen, much less heard from, until somewhere near the middle of Act II, when the scene shifts to the reception room of a whorehouse. What happens next is I hope enough to raise the hair on your neck, as it did mine. Critics are always being advised to stay away from the word electric; I can only say that there is no other word available to me, at this late hour, with which to categorize that instant when Miss Lenya shambles front and center to exhale the first weary, husky, terrible notes of her hus­band’s famous song about the Black Freighter.… Her voice lifts and hardens into the reprise (‘ …and the blaaaaaack frayta…’), and suddenly all the essential blandness and healthiness of all that has gone before is swept away, and we are stark up face to face against a kind of world and a kind of half-century that no one born this side of the water can ever quite fully make, or want to make, his own.” — Jerry Tallmer 

1956

TITUS ANDRONICUS
“Tamora is played by Colleen Dewhurst a good deal more than passably if a good deal less than perfectly. It is in any event a great recovery for Miss Dew­hurst from her recent misfor­tunes in Camille, and I am consi­derably the happier for it. I only wish this young lady could somehow learn to temper her God-given native forthrightness with a little wilting feminine de­viousness; then we should have an actress who could really ex­cite us.” — Jerry Tallmer

1957

ROMEO AND JULIET
“Mr. Papp, for what he has done with his Workshop and with these summer festivals, is ap­proaching the category of hero: I really mean it.” — Jerry Tallmer

MACBETH
“All over New York you can feel the excitement and it is good to be in my business this month and see such merit at last so rewarded. A dozen people have said to me over the weekend that they finally dare dream once again of a dynamic, successful repertory theatre here in this country, and everywhere there are intimations that the Shake­speare Workshop, just coming of age with its solid Central Park Macbeth, will go on with in­creased civic, public, and pri­vate support to an unlimited and golden maturity. Let us all do what we can to make it so.” — Jerry Tallmer

1958

GEORGE C. SCOTT
“He looks like a Marine, he walks like a Marine, he talks like a Marine, biting off his words sardonically, glancing at you coolly down his long nose; and once indeed he was a Marine, for four years — ‘burying people in Arlington Cemetery’ — but now he’s an actor and a damn fine one.” — Jerry Tallmer

CREATION OR DESTRUCTION?
“On Thursday of last week Jo­seph Papp, producer and creator of the New York Shakespeare Festival, refused to answer questions about his political be­liefs before the House Committee on Un-American activities. He was immediately fired from his job at CBS — unit manager of the TV show I’ve Got a Secret— on which he had sustained himself while bringing into existence the Shakespeare productions which some 100,000 New Yorkers have seen, for free, in Central Park and the East River Amphitheatre.

“The Village Voice invited Mr. Papp to comment on the issue. Here are his remarks:

“For myself, I am more than ever determined to devote my energies in bringing the classi­cal theatre to all people regardless of their ability to pay. I will not be diverted from considering my work in the theatre a social as well as an artistic responsi­bility. My philosophy is no se­cret. It is most clearly expressed in the founding and development of the New York Shakespeare Festival. And although I have no reluctance to discuss my opin­ions and beliefs with anybody, I will not be coerced into revealing names of innocent people. I will not be intimidated into repudiat­ing the meaning of my life. I will not cooperate with an irrespon­sible publicity-seeking commit­tee bent on destroying reputa­tions and spreading the insidious blacklist…”

AN EDITORIAL
“On the front page of the Sunday Times Drama Section of April 13 there was a long, interesting ar­ticle by Arthur Gelb on the ever ­increasing difficulties of doing good work, or any work, off Broadway in the face of rising costs and union demands.… On Friday, April 11, two days before that issue of the Times, a company of Equity ac­tors… opened at the Theatre Club in what they called An Evening of Katherine Mans­field.… The Times had a re­viewer there (not Mr. Gelb) on opening weekend. He was heard to grumble at the stairs, the lift, the whole mise en scene, and he left abruptly at intermission. No review ever appeared in the New York Times, evidently on the grounds that the event wasn’t worth mentioning. Yet far inferi­or products — in ‘regular’ theatres, without flights of stairs — are mentioned, praised, cruci­fied every day. Whether praise or crucifixion makes no matter: the production is perfectly legitimate and there should have been a report on it. If we are truly to save the off-Broadway theatre we must look for creative expression even two flights up in no man’s land.”

SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER
“Mr. Tennessee Williams, without much doubt America’s first true poet-playwright, has delib­erately chosen to go off Broad­way with his two latest works for fear that one of them at least is too strong a dose for Broad­way’s tender duodenum. He is right.” — Jerry Tallmer

PAUL GOODMAN ON PORNOGRAPHY
“Paul Goodman, playwright, poet, and novelist, spoke on ‘Pornography on the Stage’ last Saturday at the Living Theatre, where a series of lectures on ‘Creative Theatre’ is now taking place weekly through May 23. Mr. Goodman, whose Young Dis­ciple was presented by the Liv­ing Theatre three seasons ago and whose Father is to open there soon in repertory with Many Loves, stated that of all the most censored because it visually acts out the audience’s fantasies, thus mak­ing it more stimulating than the written word. Theatre, he said, has a public audience, not a pri­vate reader. The spectator is part of a community sharing guilt enthusiasm, and risk, and responding as a mass.”

1959

THE CONNECTION
“To my mind, the Living Theatre has once again excitingly justi­fied the adjective of its title. I pray that Mr. Beck and Miss Ma­lina can keep the show alive un­til word-of-mouth overcomes the worst efforts of the (second­-string summertime) daily re­viewers. If The Connection can’t make it in Greenwich Village, or wherever people care deeply about imaginative theatre, then nothing can. But I think it can ­— if its producers, for their part, can hang on… What The Con­nection as a whole did for me as a layman was to flesh out, mar­velously, my own layman’s image of the world of heroin, its tired knowing endless deep­freeze of detumescence and ut­ter hopelessness — and all such evocation of images I should consider well within the province of living theatre, if not necessar­ily of enduring drama. Yes, the Living Theatre’s alive…” — Jerry Tallmer

THE NERVOUS SET
“Larry Hagman has been given practically nothing to say or do in his performance as the Jack Kerouac figure. He comes out of it, once again, as a most attrac­tive, manly, and promising young actor, and that’s all I can think of to say about Nervous Set. The rest is too embarrassing.” — Jerry Tallmer

ONCE UPON A MATTRESS
“Carol Burnett’s clowning as the princess is excellent up to the point where it too begins to pall.” — Jerry Tallmer

1960

HENRY V
“Joseph Papp has come of age as a director in his own right with the clean, stirring, engross­ing production of Henry V that opens the 1960 season of the New York Shakespeare Festival. Previously Mr. Papp had been content to play Proteus and Ga­lahad to his Festival while leav­ing the direction to others (ex­cept in the not too satisfactory instance of last year’s Othello). Now he at last steps forward, seizes the reins, clutches the tiller, grasps the throttle, and gives it full speed ahead into the most dynamic show his group has offered since Stuart Vaugh­an’s Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1957.” — Jerry Tallmer

THE FANTASTICKS
“I am sadly out of practice at writing raves. As any critic knows, it is far easier to pick out a production’s faults than its virtues, and I am hard-pressed to explain The Fantasticks. With this in mind, I did something for the first time last week. Having seen the show free on Tuesday, its opening night, I bought tick­ets and went back on Thurs­day…

“The play’s thesis is that ‘without a hurt the heart is hol­low,’ a dangerously romantic no­tion these days, and the most elaborate and sophisticated art is employed to catch the au­dience in its simplicity. The Fantasticks is not the dregs of an uptown backer’s audition, nor an under-produced Broadway musical. What are usually limi­tations off Broadway become advantages. I just might go see it yet again.” — Michael Smith

THE BALCONY
“At the opening of The Balcony I encountered an old friend, a man in his mid-50s who happens to be an exceptionally solid citizen. His abilities and achievements, which are known around the world, have nothing to do with theatre. We took a cup of coffee together after the show. He had been much affected by it. In the second act, he said, the key to the whole play had suddenly flown into his head; from there on, his understanding had raced along almost ahead of the lines. The key to the whole play was orgasm — orgasm as that blind­ing instant of seeming self-real­ization in the overgrown imagery of our fondest, most atavistic self-illusions. ‘There’s a lead for you,’ he grinned, meaning a lead sentence for this review. ‘Jean Genet has made the drama com­mit orgasm.’ ” — Jerry Tallmer

THE PRODIGAL
“First there was Jack Gelber, the 27-year-old author of The Conn­ection. Now there is Jack Ri­chardson, an unknown who at 24, parenthesis exclamation mark parenthesis, has come up in his first try with one of the most competent, sophisticated, and satisfying new plays of the past half-decade off Broadway or on. Perhaps this generally miserable season of 1959–60 will walk away with the laurels after all.” — Jerry Tallmer

KRAPP’S LAST TAPE and THE ZOO STORY
“Two short, disparate works have been jammed together to make a fascinating single even­ing of theatre at the Province­town Playhouse. I happen to think the pieces are presented in the wrong order; I would prefer the lyrical affirmations of Samuel Beckett to come after, not before, the hostilities and negations of young Edward Al­bee, but this is a matter of philosophy and personal taste which may be ignored. I shall, however, have to review Krapp’s Last Tape and The Zoo Story as distinct and opposing entities, even though they share in com­mon the form and voltage of the brief tour de force.

Krapp’s Last Tape is almost certainly the most amazing piece of ‘incidental’ writing of the de­cade… The Zoo Story is the contribution to the Provincetown double-bill of a young Villager, and comer, named Edward Albee. He knows how to handle situation and dialogue and bring you up deftly to the edge of your seat. Whether he has anything less sick than this to say re­mains to be seen.” — Jerry Tallmer

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
“At last a really interesting new script by a young and in America unknown author. The Birth­day Party, by Harold Pinter, received five performances recently on London’s West End. It was promptly slaughtered by all critics, and has now been brought out in print by the vengeful editors of Encore, a modern-minded little British theatre magazine well worth subscribing to in its own right. Mr. Pinter is the first English­-language playwright who has apparently joined artistic forces with Eugene Ionesco. In his own way, of course, else he wouldn’t be worth talking about…” — Jerry Tallmer

LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE
“A thoroughly delightful and thoroughly polished musical comedy arrived last Wednesday at Off-Broadway’s Orpheum Theatre. Little Mary Sunshine is a spoof on American operetta of the Victor Herbert vintage.… The casting is first rate, with Eileen Brennan heading the bill as Little Mary Sunshine. She has a fine pure voice and is a subtle finished comedienne. Altogether her performance is superb — one may almost say flawless.” — J.H. Livingston

DEAD END
“The strongest feeling I get from most workshop or showcase productions is one of competi­tion. Every actor on the stage wants to shine, wants his bits to catch the agent’s eye, with the result that the material of the play is distorted or even ignored. The actors want to convey their singularity, and forget that act­ing is a cooperative art… None of these distracting aims are ap­parent in the present revival of Dead End, and it becomes, para­doxically, an excellent show­case. It contains the best en­semble acting by an American cast that I have seen in a long, long time… The Kids — played by Ken Kercheval, Robert Levy, Paul B. Price, Levy Ragni, Dusty Hoffman, and Murray Levy — are constantly fascinating.” — Michael Smith

1961

KING RICHARD II
“It had to happen. Some place in the midst of all its glory, the New York Shakespeare Festival had to come up with a dud. Its King Richard II, which closes the current season in Central Park, is a gauche and grisly bore.” — Jerry Tallmer

THE AMERICAN DREAM
“The American Dream, says Edward Albee, is death. Mommy death, daddy death, kiddie death, lover death, sex death, apartment death, values death, youth death, everything death. It is a sad and one-track theme (inherent also in The Zoo Story, his earlier smash off-Broadway success), and perhaps it is right. But I cannot go for it. At the same time I can once again admire Mr. Albee’s unquestionable talent for making a hilarious joke of his grimmest forboding — in­deed a hilarious dirty joke waft­ed through and through with es­sence of inversion and eau de necrophilia…” — Jerry Tallmer

A HAPPENING BY CLAES OLDENBURG
“Such was the magic of these charades that our friends, wives, and acquaintances who acted in them became afterward simply the Explorer, the Tough Girl, the Angel on a Stepladder. I knew nobody in the cast, but I felt that. There were times when the audience didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, whether to applaud or keep quiet. We were not sure when the play be­gan, or when it was over. How to describe these ‘happenings’? In Madame Bovary Flaubert set about, not to write a plot, but to convey a color, the color of a wood house. These ‘happenings’ convey a sound. It is the sound of a light-cavalry march, while in a cafeteria a starved man is pouring out catsup. The cafete­ria is painted red, white, and blue, with sad blotches of yel­low. The sound changes to a striptease medley; a tape of lambs bleating (in a slaughter­house), a Victor Herbert operetta. But it’s always the same sound, and the next day you’ll hear it as you cross the street. Because that’s the way it is, here in the New York of Claes Oldenburg.” — Robert Nichols

THE BLACKS
“No one who believes in the greatness of certain plays would go to any one of our houses to enjoy them. They exist as thun­dering productions in the mind only. We know how they might be done (King Lear, for example, should be played by Ernest Hem­ingway), but one also knows that way lies nightmare, mad­ness, and no hurricane’s spout. Our theatre is a cancer gulch. Anyone who has worked in it, felt the hate-twisted nerves of the actresses, the fag-ridden spirit of the actors, the gulping mannerlessness of our directors, hysterical at resistance, ponder­ous at exposition, and always psychoanalytical, must admit that yes, at its best, our theatre is a rich ass and/or hole, at its worst, the heavens recoil.

“By way of preface to some remarks on The Blacks. If one is tempted to say it is a great play with insidious, even evil veins of cowardice in its cruel bravery, one has to add immediately that such greatness exists as still another of those exquisite lonely productions of imagination’s al­ley. The show, the literal show on the boards (and the set for this one is worth an essay of quiet criticism in itself), that tangible corporal embodiment of The Blacks, ended as good theatre, shocking as a rash, bug-house with anxiety to some, nervous fever-hot for all. (A lot of people left.) It is a good production, one of the doubtless best productions in New York this year, and yet it fails to find two-thirds of the play.” — Norman Mailer

OH DAD, POOR DAD
“Twee. In Britain they’ve lately invented this word, twee, to de­scribe and classify all such shows as Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Ma­ma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. You gather that it’s onomatopoetic; it means what it sounds like. Usually it is coupled to the modifier ‘little’ — ‘a twee little revue,’ ‘that twee little play.’ So here from the boy wonder of Harvard College we have the self-defining case of twee, the ding an sich.” — Jerry Tallmer

1962

GENERAL STRIKE
“I WAS NOT originally going to write an article in this newspaper this week, the week of the Worldwide General Strike for Peace conceived by Julian Beck and Judith Malina of the Living Theatre; it had for some time been my plan to leave my space here blank, except for my by­line. When it came down to the wire I found myself stretched on the inevitable prongs of contra­dictory responsibilities: on the one hand to the personnel of the production at the Mermaid, the readers of theatre reviews, and, if you like, to that timeless thing we call the drama; on the other, to the whole human race. In the final analysis the second preten­sion seemed, under the circum­stances, even more fallacious and self-aggrandizing than the first and I have chosen to aban­don it — I hope without prejudice to my conviction that the Worldwide General Strike is the fore­most creative idea toward our salvation that has been made public since the day the bomb went off on Hiroshima.” — Jerry Tallmer

THE PREMISE
“To the tinkle of drinks being served at comfortable chairs in Washington’s Shoreham Hotel overlooking Rock Creek Park­way, Theodore Flicker and his talented colleagues, Thomas Aldredge, Joan Darling, and James Frawley, have been delighting Washington’s theatre-goers since opening on January 15. Politics, government, and people take a wonderful spoofing, not without some poignant and ap­propriate barbs. Anybody pre­sent when this reviewer and his wife attended could see that this would be a rave notice. ‘It’s all so good I don’t know where to begin,’ was our comment. To which our wife replied: ‘Make that your lead!’ ” — John V. Lindsay

WITCHES’ SABBATH
“Yclept ymote ymedieval yrane yvenge yterminable ymishmash­-metaphor message ygods.” — Jerry Tallmer

VOX BRITTANICUS
“THE FUNNIEST DEADPAN I’ve seen belongs to Vic Grecco. He and Fred Willard do a show which I saw at the Phase 2, and which is funnier than all but two in England. They told me they hadn’t got an agent. Somebody uptown should take his feet off the desk.” — Tom Stoppard

OBIES 1961–1962
“The virus had Lotte Lenya se­verely indisposed in Art D’Lu­goff’s private office at the Vil­lage Gate. More than 700 people were packed into the cavernous rathskeller on Saturday after­noon waiting to see her present the 1961–62 Village Voice Obie Awards. Brecht on Brecht press agent Howard Atlee rushed over to master-of-ceremonies Jerry Tallmer. ‘She’s got to go home,’ he said. Tallmer went into the office and told Miss Lenya: ‘You’ve got to go home.’ ‘I won’t,’ she said, white as a ghost. Then you’ve got to lie down.’ She lay down: Ten min­utes later… Miss Lenya was on stage graciously accepting the warm welcome of the audience.”

THE HOSTAGE
“The great off-Broadway boom of our era has been a rampa­geous conglomeration of glory and garbage; if you want to taste of the glory a little, go and know the living experience of Brendan Behan at One Sheridan Square. This is not the hot­house-forced, panic-shouted Be­han of The Quare Fellow (off Broadway) or the constrained, over-manipulated Behan of The Hostage (on Broadway). This is The Hostage come to Off Broad­way and Off Broadway come to perfect pitch in one of its few legitimate functions: the revival of important works, old or new, in less ornate and more honest productions than elsewhere.” — Jerry Tallmer

OBIES, 1961–1962
“James Earl Jones, 31, born Tate County, Mississippi, raised by his grandparents on a wilderness farm near Jackson, Michi­gan, the second of his family and first of his high school graduating class ever to go to college — premed at the University of Michigan — is the Best Actor of the off-Broadway season of 1961–62. He is the son of an actor and long-time Villager, Ro­bert Earl Jones.”

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
“We watch, we are pleased, en­tertained, excited, frightened­ — George C. Scott’s Shylock both excited and frightened me, the first Shylock that ever has — but we are not at the root of it deep­ly moved. We are not moved at all; we are neutralized. There are too many disparities, and too many equals. Yet within the dis­parity-neutrality there is a breathtaking powerhouse performance by Mr. Scott, making Shylock not merely a hurricane, figure, a titan, a crushed giant; but also a human truly torn by personal losses, personal trage­dy, and the great tragic tempta­tions of empty vengeance. And also a man of wit, terrible, trag­ic, vengeful wit. Very impressive. Not Jewish. More like an Orozco Christ, the lion bursting from his lair. With a head and visage not infrequently as from a rough-cut Michelangelo Pietá. Mr. Scott adds much to his stature as an actor with his contributions these summer evenings in Cen­tral Park.” — Jerry Tallmer

THE CONNECTION
“The New York State Board of Regents’ attempt to censor the film of Jack Gelber’s play The Connection on the grounds of obscenity was unanimously overruled on Monday by the Ap­pellate Division of the State Su­preme Court. The Regents had objected to the word ‘shit’, which is used 11 times in the film as a colloquialism for heroin.”

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
“Do not be fooled by the appearances. Edward Albee has written a play about truth and illusion, and the evening’s number one illusion is that this is a conven­tional play — extraordinary in its emotional persistence, its vital language and coruscating wit, and its all-round technical supe­riority, but conventional and or­dinary in its form and devices. This is, I repeat, an illusion. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is, subtly but critically, a new kind of play.” — Michael Smith

1963

IS OFF B’WAY STILL FREE?
“A symposium at 11 p.m. tonight (Thursday) at the Writers’ Stage Theatre, 83 East 4th Street, will consider the question ‘Is Off Broadway Still Free?’ Among those attending the symposium, which is open to the public, will be Stuart Vaughan, George Ta­bori, Madeleine Sherwood, Her­mione Baddeley, Alfred Ryder, and Edwin Harvey Blum, author of The Saving Grace, which is currently running at the theatre. The following night at the same time and place, Blum will con­duct an open meeting; its aim will be to form ‘a permanent organization to study ways and means to effectuate a continued fight for the freedom of Off-Broadway.’ Blum’s campaign was sparked by the ‘irresponsibility’ of major newspaper reviews of his play. ‘Off-Broadway,’ he says, ‘is one of our few forums for free expression. I am not doing this in regard to The Saving Grace, but in regard to a deep need by other writers.'”

THE BRIG
“It is true that The Brig isn’t a play. Neither are all the events in the Judson dance concert series dances, nor are Jim Dine’s pictures paintings, nor in conventional terms are even John Cage’s compositions always music. But it is meaningless to criticize any of these works in terms they don’t use. The Brig uses a stage and (in a sense) actors and (in a sense) dialogue — but is does not use story, plot, character, conflict (in its technical meaning), or any of the other traditional devices of dramaturgy.” — Michael Smith

WHAT HAPPENED
“Lawrence Kornfeld’s production of Gertrude Stein’s first play is pure lyric theatre, a direct lyrical experience which has no counterpart in logical words or concepts or ideas, and so there is not much I can say about it except that I expect to go a couple more times during its run at Judson Church, and I hope to see you there. I will briefly tell you that Kornfeld has taken Miss Stein’s open-minded words and made them into a visual anthem, if that makes any sense. He uses five girl dancers who move, act, and speak. The correspondences between the words and the actions are on some other level than sense or reason can determine, but un­questionably they exist. Every­thing that happens has the ca­sual inevitability of great art. In addition to the girls, Kornfeld has used four men as singers. One of them is Al Carmines, who has composed a delightful score that contains more tunes than My Fair Lady, and he plays it on the piano and sings and moves around all at the same time.” — Michael Smith

JAIL POETS
“The second in a series of read­ings by ‘jail poets’ — poets who have spent time in jail — will be given at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, September 9, at the Living Theatre, 14th Street and Sixth Avenue. Participant poets will be Taylor Mead, Jackson MacLow, Deane Mowrer, John Weiners, James Forest, Michael Graine, Philip Havey, Carl Einhorn, Ray Bremser (in absentia), and H. Lee Heagy. Tickets range from$1 to $5.”

UPTOWN
“Every once in a while I am overcome by a morbid compul­sion to go see what they’re mak­ing into hits on Broadway. Don’t get me wrong: the urge seems neither morbid nor compulsive when it strikes me. In fact, I go with a sense of anticipation. It probably won’t be great art (I tell myself), but it’s sure to be fun. It won’t be deep or intellectually demanding (I condescendingly imagine), but it will certainly be pleasant and diverting. Well, welcome Barefoot in the Park (at the Biltmore) to the ranks of dull hits.” — Michael Smith

LIVING THEATRE JAILED
“Nobody ever expected the Liv­ing Theatre to die quietly. And after four frantic days — with events ranging from a melan­choly press conference through a bootleg performance of The Brig to 25 arrests — New York’s leading avant-garde playhouse; although stripped of physical premises and possessions, is still a living idea. On Sunday, while codirectors Julian Beck and Judith Malina were in feder­al prisons on charges of imped­ing federal officials in the perfor­mance of their duties, the physical assets of the Living Theatre were removed from the building at 14th Street and Sixth Avenue pending an auction toward payment of $23,000 ow­ing in back federal taxes. The Becks have always been news­worthy, but the daily newspa­pers have given them more cov­erage for their political activities — in protest against civil defense drills and as leaders of the General Strike for Peace — than for their artistic achievements. The latter have won them numerous prizes and the Voice recently described the Living Theatre as America’s ‘most original, profoundly ad­venturous, and persistently im­portant theatre institution.’ In this incarnation it persists no more.” — Michael Smith

1964

HOME FREE
“Lanford Wilson’s fantasy-melo­drama is unusually effective cafe drama, and it is a pleasure to report that Wilson, who was earlier represented at the Cino by So Long at the Fair, has de­veloped his gift for vivid char­acter dialogue and somewhat re­strained his reliance on gimmicks. Home Free has its share of gimmicks, to be sure, but they are disciplined to the service of the plot. Although the play is neither subtle nor par­ticularly serious, it is inventive, exciting, and emotionally solid.” — Michael Smith

BECKS INDICTED
“Julian Beck and Judith Malina, directors of the Living Theatre, were indicted last week by a Federal grand jury on 11 felony counts, each carrying a maxi­mum sentence of three years and $5000 fine. The Becks are alleged to have impeded federal agents in the pursuit of their du­ties when the Living Theatre was closed by the Internal Rev­enue Service last October for nonpayment of nearly $30,000 in federal taxes. On receiving the indictment, Julian Beck said: ‘We are surprised and shocked that the grand jury is not able to differentiate between the devo­tion of artists to their art and criminal acts.’ ”

HOME MOVIES
“I find it very odd that I can remember almost nothing of Ro­salyn Drexler’s Home Movies ex­cept the fact that I loved it.” — Michael Smith

BECKS GUILTY
“ ‘The human heart and the hu­man mind have to examine the rigidity of the law,’ Judith Ma­lina Beck told the jury last Fri­day. She was summing up her defense against charges that she, along with her husband, Julian Beck, impeded federal of­ficers in their seizure of the tax­-delinquent Living Theatre last October. On Monday, after five hours of deliberation, the jury of 11 men and one woman found the Becks guilty of impeding fed­eral officers and of ‘rescuing’ seized property. Beck was con­victed on five counts under the first charge and two under the second. Miss Malina was con­victed on two counts under the first charge and one under the second.” — Stephanie Harrington 

BECKS GET JAIL TERMS
“Judith Malina and Julian Beck received individual prison sen­tences of 30 days and 60 days and the Living Theatre corpora­tion was fined $2500 by Judge Edmund L. Palmieri on Friday in Federal Court. The prison terms resulted from contempt charges leveled at the Becks on May 25, the day they were convicted of impeding federal officers during the closing of their theatre last October. At the final day of the trial Judith Malina repeatedly cried, ‘innocent!’ and accused Judge Palmieri of having caused the conviction; Julian Beck said then that the trial ‘demeaned and degraded’ the majesty of the nation.” — Michael Smith

CAFE LA MAMA
“If service stripes could be given out to coffee-house owners for heroic behavior under fire from the city licensing department, then Ellen Stewart, the proprie­tress of La Mama Experimental Theatre, would have a box of ribbons and a chest full of Pur­ple Hearts. La Mama has sus­tained so many casualties in the coffee-house licensing war that it operates now as a private club and hides itself behind curtained store-front windows in a loft at 82 Second Avenue. In fact, La Mama is so well attended by re­presentatives of the police and fire departments that it could al­most be called a bootleg theatre; during performances Miss Stewart sits sentry-duty outside the door to make sure that stray policemen don’t interrupt the ac­tors.” — Sally Kempton

COWBOYS and THE ROCK GARDEN
“I know it sounds pretentious and unprepossessing — Theatre Genesis at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bouwerie, dedicated to the new playwright — but they have actually found a new playwright, which is more than you can of­ten say for Broadway or Off-­Broadway. The playwright’s name is Sam Shepard, and I know nothing about him except that he has written a pair of provocative and genuinely origi­nal plays.… The plays are diffi­cult to categorize, and I’m not sure it would be valuable to try. Shepard is still feeling his way, working with an intuitive approach to language and dramat­ic structure and moving into an area between ritual and natural­ism, where character transcends psychology, fantasy breaks down literalism, and the patterns of ordinariness have their own lives. His is a gestalt theatre which evokes the existence be­hind behavior. Shepard clearly is aware of previous work in this mode, mostly by Europeans, but his voice is distinctly American and his own.” — Michael Smith

THE SLAVE and THE TOILET
“Although LeRoi Jones’s two new plays are highly personal, almost private works, they are interpreted as political state­ments, public pronouncements, position papers on advanced in­tellectual, left-wing Negro think­ing. Dutchman, which last year brought Jones his first attention in the theatre, in one scarifying speech established Jones as an important Negro spokesman. His new plays — and the other plays he has written — have little to do with race problems except on the surface.” — Michael Smith

1965

JOE CINO’S WORLD

“The Caffe Cino was destroyed by fire on Ash Wednesday morn­ing. The cafe at 31 Cornelia Street opened in December, 1958, and quickly became im­portant as New York’s most tenacious and active cafe theatre. For several years the Cino had been producing plays, changing the program every week, and an emphasis on original scripts had led to the discovery of several talented new playwrights.” — Michael Smith

ANTI-OBIE
“In addition to distributing hon­ors for distinguished achieve­ment, the judges of this year’s Obies made a citation for ‘dis­service to the modern theatre.’ The first such negative award — informally dubbed an ‘anti­-Obie’ — last season named the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center. Walter Kerr, drama critic of the New York Herald Tribune, was singled out for this year’s citation. The text, read by judge Gordon Rogoff during Obie cere­monies at the Village Gate on Saturday, follows: ‘In recogni­tion of outstanding disservice to the modern theatre: For his de­termined resistance to the works of Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Pirandello, O’Casey, Brecht, Sartre, Ionesco, Genet, and Beckett; and for turning his skills instead to the promotion and maintenance of a commod­ity theatre without relevance to dramatic art — Walter Kerr.’ ”

CAFFE CINO RISES — AGAIN
“The Caffe Cino, 31 Cornelia Street, reopened on Tuesday evening. The cafe theatre had been ravaged by a fire in March, and several benefit perfor­mances were given by various theatres to raise money for its reconstruction. The cafe was re­built on the same premises and will continue its traditional poli­cies. H. M. Koutoukas’s play With Creatures Make My Way will play at the Cino this week and next. Elizabeth Davison plays the single role, and the play has been directed by Ro­berta Sklar. Performances are at approximately 9 and 11 nightly, with additional 1 a.m. perfor­mances on Friday and Saturday.”

THE OPEN THEATRE
“The Open Theatre has burst onto the scene with intelligent, spirited, and idiosyncratic work. After preparing in close for a year and half, the group — 30 ac­tors, four directors, and four af­filiated playwrights, under a three-man directorate — has been doing a series of alternate Monday Evening performances at the Sheridan Square Play­house. I have seen the three most recent productions and can only rejoice that the group has come out in the open. It is the most engaging theatre to be seen in New York. Praise to the directorate (Joseph Chaikin, Peter Feldman, Sydney Schubert Walter) as the inspiration and driving force; praise to the members for solid and frequently brilliant manifestation of the in­spiration; praise to them all for achieving, in such short order, an ensemble with a definite style.” — Robert Pasolli

ICARUS’S MOTHER
“For those of you who are busy people, facts first, implications later. (And by facts I mean, of course, nothing closer to the truth than my opinions.) Sam Shepard is one of the youngest and most gifted of the new playwrights working Off-Broad­way these days. The signature of his work is its unencumbered spontaneity — the impression Shepard gives of inventing drama as a form each time he writes a play. His new theatre piece, Icarus’s Mother, is pres­ently on view at the Caffe Cino. Sad to say, it gives the impression of being a mess.” — Edward Albee

BbAaNnGg!
“Cafe La Mama received a sum­mons last week requiring exten­sive electrical repairs, and BbAaNnGg! was the result. Twenty-six brief plays, all by different authors, were given to help Ellen Stewart raise the needed cash. Each play was limited to three minutes; there were no other specifications. The responses to this challenge indicated some of the ways the newest generation of New York playwrights are thinking.” — Michael Smith

1966

JOURNEY OF THE FIFTH HORSE
“Dustin Hoffman is superb as Zoditch, the reader. He is furiously caught up in a comedy of madness, becoming hateful, loathsome, Hitlerian, grotesque, but always both funny and unexpectedly human.” — Michael Smith

HERKO MEMORIAL
“Readings, dances, and music will be given tonight (Thursday) at Judson Memorial Church in memory of Fred Herko, the dancer and choreographer who last week jumped to his death from a sixth-floor window on Cornelia Street. Herko was a prominent member of the Judson Dance Theatre. LeRoi Jones, Frank O’Hara, Diane di Prima, and Allan Marlow will read; Phoebe Neville, Deborah Lee, and Arlene Rothlein will dance; and music by John Herbert McDowell and Al Carmines will be performed beginning at 6 p.m. at the church, 55 Washington Square South.”

IRENE FORNES
“Maria Irene Fornes could use four-letter words at a tea party (and might if it seemed natural at the moment) without ever being accused of not being a lady. She is unassuming, little — ­cute, even, though she probably wouldn’t react well to the word. Or maybe she’d like it. She’s not predictable. She has what is called a nice face — open, fair-­skinned against a frame of short, dark hair, slightly freck­led, with big, brown eyes that might be described as frank, ex­cept that they don’t tell you a thing about what’s going on be­hind them. It’s the kind of face that makes you feel comfortable in a room full of strangers.” — Stephanie Harrington

THEATRE OF THE RIDICULOUS
“This is more like it. For months now I’ve been wondering where the action is. The Judson had it for a while and maybe they’ll get it again, and there have been flashes of the real thing at La Mama, Caffe Cino, and at a few other places. But take my word for it, there’s nothing in town as lively and inventive and mad and just plain entertaining as the show the Theatre of the Ridicu­lous is putting on at its theatre ­loft on West 17th Street.” — Joseph LeSeuer 

VIET ROCK
Viet Rock, which the Open Theatre presented two weeks ago at Cafe La Mama, was ex­traordinary on at least two counts. It is the first realized theatrical statement about the Vietnam war that I have seen and a rare instance of theatre confronting issues broader than individual psychology. And it is the first time the special ensem­ble techniques of the Open Theatre, developed during sever­al years of workshop sessions, have been fully applied and used for a purpose.” — Michael Smith

1967

AMERICA HURRAH
“As three views of the U.S.A., these plays are of little inter­est… The members of the Open Theatre have devoted themselves so wholeheartedly to exploring the nonverbal aspects of theatre that they’ve over­looked the words themselves… We’ll have to suspend judg­ment, as they apparently did, until they find a play worthy of their talents.” — Ross Wetzsteon

OBIE AWARDS
“…to America Hurrah…”

1968

THE INDIAN WANTS THE BRONX
“Al Pacino gives a fascinating performance, all cool, fluid, swaggering mannerisms, as graceful and gratuitous as smoke. But what I liked best was the subtlety of his broadness, the naturalness of his fakery­ — years ago, actors adopted the mannerisms of hoods, and now the mannerisms have returned to the hoods by way of the mov­ies.” — Ross Wetzsteon

CHRISTMAS TURKEY
(The first nudity Off-Broadway):
“When I briefly fantasized that Pauline had clothes on, I realized that my basic, undistracted reaction to the play itself was an atavistic urge to scratch dirt over it with my paws. But of course Pauline was naked, ex­cept for a few adroitly misplaced turkey feathers, and the play was just a vehicle (or rather, since it was virtually immobile, a dais) for her buoyant figure. By way of acting, Pauline shifted her weight from time to time, but didn’t seem to know what to do with her hands. I understand there was some talk of arrests on opening night, but I don’t think Pauline had to worry — I mean she didn’t do anything dirty like playing the cello… Ed Wode deserves credit for bringing a wholly new audience to the Off-Off-Broadway theatre. De pudendum non est disputandum.” — Ross Wetzsteon

DIONYSUS IN ’69
“It suddenly occurred to me, when I realized that a radical black would probably find the work of the Performance Group irrelevant, to what extent the Dionysiac appeal (and menace) is essentially a middle-class, Anglo-Saxon, anti-Puritanical phenomenon. Group therapy cum Esalen? Utopia as sexual rather than a political ideal? The children of Brown rather than Marcuse? A rather peripheral revolution to anyone but a certain kind of American. Still, a revolution, and a staggering piece of theatre. The difference between the Living Theatre and the Performance Group is the difference between religion and therapy. An interesting thing about the Performance Group is that one feels that acting in Dionysus for several months had been good for them. It’d be good for pretty much all of us, for that matter. Still, I can’t help thinking that there’s an odd disjuncture between the method of the per­formance (releasing and the orgiastic) and the themes of the play (self-acknowledgment and the tragedy of excess) that throws its conclusions slightly off balance, as if the bulk of their commitment is to half a dialectic.” — Ross Wetzsteon

THE ’70s

A CHORUS LINE
“Leaving aside the economic and social causes, Broadway died (and it has died — what we have left is a mumble) because its practitioners started believing their own myths. The joy of appearing on The Great White Way, the splendor of having your name up in lights, the excitement, the struggle, the sense of belonging among the insiders, all started out as frank hokum — and, like the artists, the public knew that the myth was half to be taken seriously, like all good hokum… Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line is a show about the kids and the myth. It never questions the assumptions of the myth, which is a major drawback, but its creators have taken pains to be accurate to the lives of the people who worship at the shrine of Broadway, with the result that the show is built around a very hard kernel of truth and genuine feeling. It’s perfect, too, that A Chorus Line should be created at the Public Theatre, on public money, as living proof that the entrepreneurial side of Broadway can no more be depended on these days than the artistic side. A Chorus Line is, in effect, the last Broadway musical.” — Michael Feingold

1976

DAVID MAMET: REMEMBER THAT NAME
“Theres a new generation of unheralded playwrights about to burst forth with major works, but only David Mamet has done work worthy of major critical recognition at this point, and recognition not so much for his plays as for the potential they represent, especially in his careful, gorgeous, loving sense of language. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that at the age of 28 Mamet is the most promising American playwright to have emerged in the ’70s and that he has the most acute ear for dia­logue of any American writer since J. D. Salinger.” — Ross Wetzsteon 

MERYL STREEP
“Meryl Streep came to Manhat­tan last September, fresh from her MFA Yale Rep, a summer at the O’Neill, and not much else. Nearly upon arrival, she was playing the ingenue lead in the Lincoln Center production of Trelawny of the Wells, landing a major part in 27 Wagonloads of Cotton at the Phoenix, following this with a jewel of a Southern Belle in the Phoenix’s revival of Secret Service… In nine months, Meryl Streep has be­come a leading lady; it will not take much longer before she is a certified star.” — Terry Curtis Fox 

THE CLUB
“It’s pure delight to have a laugh without checking my spirit at the door and to enjoy a musical diversion in which first-rate singing and dancing aren’t wasted on some dumb vehicle. As usual the jokes are sexist, but this time the real joke’s on them. Eve Merriam’s piece is lighthearted, not featherbrained, charming but not corrupt. It’s about men without being meaner to them than they deserve. It’s aware of class and race. And it manages simultaneously to use and satirize current tastes.… What I liked about the play’s feminism is that it’s taken for granted as the rational point of view, and male sexism as ab­surd. Women surely will find The Club funny. So should their male friends, lovers, and colleagues. As for those other men, I hope it makes them horribly uncomfort­able to be among the few not laughing.” — Erika Munk

1978

FEFU AND HER FRIENDS
“Not to mince words, Maria Irene Fornes’s rich, astonishing play, Fefu and Her Friends, seems to me the only essential thing the New York theatre has added to our cultural life in the past year. I first saw the play last spring, when the New York Theatre Strategy produced it in a SoHo loft; seeing it again, in the visually enhanced and partly recast production at the Ameri­can Place Theatre, I realized that it’s been in my mind since that first performance, as inevi­table a part of my cultural furni­ture as Bach’s ‘Air for the G String’ or Seurat’s La Grande Jatte — one of those works that, on first hearing or viewing, you recognize immediately as being part of you.” — Michael Feingold 

THE SHAGGY DOG ANIMATION
“One ad for The Shaggy Dog Animation is a photo of Lee Breuer kissing his husky, tongue to tongue, his hands holding her paw. Another ad is more myste­rious: just the dog’s head, her eyes showing almost nothing but white; perhaps she’s dead, per­haps staring off at an odd angle of vision. These are precise images of the play, for Shaggy Dog is about romantic love, and all Mabou Mines’s animations breathe into dead forms, inert ideas, and inanimate objects. They are also plays on words, grand extensions of punning. Shaggy Dog is rather shaggy­-doggish in form — long, superfi­cially rambling, with a nice sense of the absurd. All the ani­mations are about animals, and all use the quick cuts and violent juxtapositions of cartoons. Red Horse concerns journeys, bur­dens, speed style, and nerves; B. Beaver portrays the construct­ing mammal — a damming up, and damned species. Shaggy Dog is about ‘a species of devo­tion’ — itchy, groveling, and hopeless.” — Erika Munk 

FUGUE IN A NURSERY
“Harvey Fierstein’s Fugue in a Nursery continues the adven­tures of a character I always see as Arnold the Gay — not an Arth­urian knight but the hero of Fier­stein’s earlier one-act The Inter­national Stud. Not your typical Everygay, either, Arnold is a fic­tional reflection of his author: professional transvestite, Brook­lyn-Jewish street wit, and, at heart, a sentimental naif. Looked at another way, Arnold is a gay analogue of Krazy Kat, the straight world his Offissa Pup, and his Ignatz Maus — the love object who retaliates with bricks — is that most confused of men, the Closet Case. Like its worthy predecessor, Fierstein’s work is trifling and cartooned, but it is also honest, precise, and funny — major virtues in a time when even homosexuality is mass-marketed as a product… Fierstein’s voice still re­minds me of a Brooklyn high­ schooler in a machine shop, learning the many uses of the rasp; but being Arnold, only he can do the character justice.” — Michael Feingold 

 

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