- Michael Feingold, The Village Voice (NYC)
"the transvestite muses of Comedy and Tragedy invade an unexamined relationship and turn it gratifyingly (and wittily) inside out"
- Michael Feingold, The Village Voice (NYC)
Paxton and I cast the male roles (three angels and Adam) from Cino irregulars. We couldn't find the right actress to play Eve. Ron Gallardo, the actor playing Urhelancia, had filched from another audition (and for unclear reasons) a photo and resume of a likely candidate. Paxton sent me into my bedroom when Jane Lowry arrived to read - playwrights are to be heard but not seen. Lady Jane got the part (the first of many she would play for me) and became one of Joe Cino’s most beloved actresses (and my Gertrude Lawrence.)
Not wanting people to think And He Made A Her was my first play to be performed, I wore three-piece suits and a trench coat tossed over my shoulder. I also drank brandy and soda. (Until the Devil and Janis Mars introduced me to stingers in the BAQ Room.) I told my good news to Bernie (noblesse oblige) Hart at the Little Bar at Sardi’s. Bernie warned me "not to get involved down in the Village - you’ll never get back uptown".
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"has a tight-in-the crotch, beer-slugging vitality that makes us laugh at the often grimly serious enterprise of gaymale sexual conquest"
- Gaysweek (NYC)
The only relationship I ever had left me stumbling through the slush of Forty-Second Street on Christmas Eve of 1961, clutching Macy shopping bags crammed with his and my presents. Seems his lover (an entity previously unknown to me) had flown in from London as a holiday surprise. Never tried relationships again as I am susceptible to colds which makes stumbling through slush a bad idea. For me a one night stand is a long time commitment. Which in no way deterred me from writing about A Perfect Relationship.
People are forever offering writers their great idea for a play (which inevitably prove useless). Waiters have withheld my dinner, a doctor interrupted a medical procedure, strangers have crawled out from under my bed, all insisting I listen. This is not how plays are written. Or it wasn’t until an afternoon in the late 1970s. I had started working on the play, had created Ward and Greg (named after my upstairs neighbors) but now was blocked. The plot was stalled in a snow storm (notice the symbolism). I was interviewing a potential roommate to share my Bedford Street apartment. When I asked him why he wanted to move, he answered, "You could write a play about what happened to me." It seems his lover brought home a trick and they decided to live together so they kicked him out but the trick only wants the apartment so its only a matter of time until the trick also evicts the lover. Three weeks later the first draft of A Perfect Relationship was finished (the interviewee didn’t move in).
Ward and Greg were patterned on the hearty sportsmen seen in print ads for menthol cigarettes. That they were also gay was meant to catch a late 1970's audience off-guard. They were diametrically opposite to the prevalent stereotype. How was I to know they were about to become the stereotype. As Ward shares most of my worst traits, I tend to sympathize with Greg. Imagine my surprise when audiences generally side with Ward. I certainly wouldn’t want to live with me.
The character Muriel (written for Jane Lowry) proved a major problem. I had established that she could and would enter the play at will and at anytime, and as Muriel was convinced the play was about her, she (the character) kept barging in and taking over. I couldn’t keep her off the stage. One set of producers optioned the play only so they could tie up the character of Muriel for a possible televison spinoff.
Barry was based on an actual "interior architect" who specialized in "grey-beige" named Barry. After hearing a reading of A Perfect Relationship, and with a clear view of his own self-interest, he asked that he be allowed to design the sets. I reminded the director that my depiction of Barry was fairly astute. I was ignored, the week of dress rehearsal, Barry got an invitation to Mardi Gras and the play opened set less. I was lucky to see the late Adam Caparell (the best male identified actor to work in gay theater) play the definitive Barry.
After the Glines showcase, there was much talk that A Perfect Relationship would cross over to the professional mainstream. It was the first workshop of a play with a gay theme that had agents submitting their male client list for consideration. The producers were interested in the Lucille Lortel Theater on Christopher Street until the self-hating gay manager refused to even read the script, insisting there was no audience for "gay entertainments" in Greenwich Village. Seems a little pointless protesting Dr. Laura when our worst adversaries most often are us. Guess I’ll never see my name on a bronze plaque under the Lortel marquee.
New York City, June 18, 2000
"a topsy turvy retelling of Wilde’s Salome... Incisive wit, theatrical flare and sophisticated gay consciousness combines with dramatic flourish in this subtle scrutiny of homophobia."
- John Deverre, Mandate
About the time And He Made A Her showcased at the Cherry Lane theater (1961), I was arrested for sexual (I was innocent) whatever. Richard Barr bailed me out of jail and I ran to the safety of the Caffe Cino, sat at a table and wrote (just like in the movies) Now She Dances! (I should have dedicated it to the cop who entrapped me, and who, years later, encountered me in a leather bar, leered, and suggested maybe he and I might... but that's another play.)
Now She Dances! began as a response to the hilarious histrionics and fruity language of Lord Douglas' translation of Oscar Wilde's Salome. Written with overwhelming earnestness in no-doubt equally florid French, Wilde's play has become a touchstone for decadence, equating lavender eau de cologne and slavering smears of silver eyeshadow with degeneracy. I decided to rewrite it as The Importance of Being Salome (Richard Barr found the right title in one of the last lines of the play). The resulting play became an angry, ironic, nightmare metaphor for the trial of Oscar Wilde (the quintessential closet queen, it was Wilde's determination to establish his heterosexuality in court which lead to his fatal second trial).
The Cino cast of Now She Dances! was headed by the ever articulate Tom Lawrence (Lane), with zany Zita Jenner (Lady Herodias), and the so very beautiful Lucrezia Simmons (Miss Salome) and Joe Cino's favorite actress, Jane Lowry (Gladys). If you were there, you still remember the soup speech. The one act Cino play was extended into a two act version for the Playbox in the East Village in the late 1960s. On the way to the first rehearsal, Jane Lowry and Sloane Shelton traded roles on the 10th Street crosstown bus the way bobbysoxers used to switch sweaters. Opening night, the actor playing Bill, flying high on psychedelic drugs, was too busy watching all the pretty lights to bother coming on stage for his entrance. A happier memory was Berrilla Kerr swathed in yards of scarlet swishing satin, slipping away from dinner "unnoticed".
In 1976 Now She Dances! was rewritten once again for TOSOS. Druid high priestess Sally Eaton (from the cast of Hair), and later Caroline Yeager gave harrowing and searing performances in brilliant and totally different interpretations of Miss Salome. Glamorous Mary Portser, forever juvenile Dale Carman, Machiavellian Michael O'Brien, jaunty John Michel, matinee idol John Murphy (and later the towering Brian Benben, mischief making Marianne Leone and Greg - the hottest man I ever saw - Michaels) kept Salome dancing for nearly a year in the Church Street basement home of TOSOS.
The play was again thrown into the rewrite mill where it ground round and round until Steve Bottoms convinced Larry Johnson to convince me to finish it (a debt waiting payment). The new (and hopefully final version) premiered in Glasgow, Scotland in the winter of 2000 with Steve Bottoms directing. For the first time Now She Dances! was played in tandem with Oscar Wilde's Salome. The cast was doubled, the actress cast as Salome also assayed Miss Salome (I suggested a gender switch, the Herod from the Wilde in drag as Lady Herodias; Herodias to beard up as Sir Herod, but nobody ever listens to me.)
A very complex and difficult play, in Now She Dances! even the levels have levels. For all it's insanity and layered complexity it is my most fiercely autobiographical play. Painfully private and highly sensitive details of my youth are shattered, stitched back together and scattered liberally throughout the play. No, they are not the ones you think they are.
Audiences generally have no problem with the play's complexity, gleefully enjoying it moment to moment. On the other hand, most academics and the gay intelligentsia tend to loath it. Perhaps the character of Lane hits too close to home?
New York City, June 17, 2000