- Terry Helbing, The Villager (NYC)
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Doric Wilson on Street Theater
In the summer of 1980 as I was passing the site of the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street I heard a drag queen call out to a girlfriend, "Hi ya, Ceil!, how ya doin', hun," and like Proust with a mouthful of Madeleine I was back in 1969, and, political rhetoric to the contrary, nothing had changed. I began Street Theater that night. I wrote most of it on the back of flyers while employed as the doorman of a nameless (and thankfully for the writing process) unpopular Upper Westside bar.
The incidents in Street Theater are all autobiographical, including the cops arresting each other, and Seymour offering his nightstick to Jack. The characters are based on actual people, C.B. is a composite of Mama Jean and Pat Bond; Heather is Sally Eaton; Timothy is David Summers; Seymour is an NYPD cop of the same name; Boom Boom is a homage to Marsha Johnson, etc., BUT Sidney is not Voice critic Michael Feingold, anymore than Murfino is Ed Murphy or Jack is Doric Wilson.
I gave Allan Estes at San Francisco's Theater Rhinoceros the premier of Street Theater in gratitude for his support of my earlier plays. My main memory of the opening was my seventy year old mother being physically assaulted in front of the theatre by a disputation of lesbians angry at my play for suggesting drag queens participated in Stonewall. (No doubt the very same women who later hauled the dying Robert Chesley before a Star Chamber to explain why his plays did not gander-step to the beat of political correctness.)
Three New York City productions followed, the first a disastrous showcase at the old TOSOS site directed by a recently reformed dipsomaniac who spent the rehearsal negotiating the twelve steps. The second was an award winning, highly successful long run deep in the bowels of Manhattan's notorious Mineshaft. Casey Wayne and Philip Blackwell (and later Michael Lynch) dressed in the "tub room" where they took special pleasure in splashing gallons of Gardenia perfume around Wally Wallace's cologne-free premise. An Off-Broadway engagement followed at the Actor's Playhouse (David Drake's debut), but Minetta Creek overflowed it's underground conduit, flooding the theater and causing Street Theater to sink during previews.
Many other - dryer - productions followed, but it wasn't until after stagings in Seattle and Los Angeles in the late 1980's that the climax of the play was finally put in proper sequence. In April of 2002 the revised script of Street Theater was given it's first airing in the TOSOS II production at The Eagle NYC, where it ran for 6 weeks to critical acclaim and award nominations in the definitive performance to date, directed by Mark Finley (www.tosos2.org). It will be revived May 7th, 2003 at The Eagle NYC.
The popularity of the play has been a major influence on other creative artists who pay me the great compliment of "lifting" (without permission or acknowledgment) character names, plot particulars and entire scenes from the play. Noteworthy ""borrowers"" are Tina Landau and Anne Hamburger, whose Stonewall: Night Variations was littered with bits and pieces of Street Theater; and Michael Korie, who appropriated the play's climax (even to my misquotation of actual graffiti) for the first act finale of his opera Harvey Milk. A leather-clad opera critic (redundant?) who, recognizing the "unlicensed" borrowing, suggested that I should be "flattered". And I am. As Ceil would say "I am highly overwhelmed -- now buy me a drinkie!"
New York City, June 14, 2000