Category: Arts and Letters
ROACH: Yes, well Diderot comments on that in the Paradox of the Actor, which you alluded to a moment ago. It was a demonstration of facial physiognomy, of control over the face and its expression, that paralleled a pianist playing scales. Garrick started on one emotion, and then ran his face through nine distinct emotions, recognizable, stopped, and ran his face back down through the same sequence, but in reverse, just as you would play a scale on the piano.
BOGAEV: Wow. And these two screens are kind of like a frame, a picture frame or a door frame?
ROACH: Yeah, they’re like a proscenium to frame his face. So it was just the face coming through. And that—to your point about did he need a full-body posture or movement to work his magic—the answer is as long as it was close enough, he could do it with his face alone.
BOGAEV: So, talk about a rubber face. So Diderot, as you say, wrote these passages in the Paradox that he attributed to Garrick and Garrick’s voice. He has Garrick talking about acting and also about the type of person that an actor should envision himself portraying, and he talks about an ideal man, as opposed to playing oneself. Garrick says that if you play only yourself, you’ll be a crappy actor, a mediocre actor.
ROACH: Yes, yes. That’s exactly… You’ll be mediocre. It is a being that you imagine, that you bring into being, by the force of your creative imagination. And when you think of it, it’s an extraordinary thing to, as it were, give birth to a human being who’s not yourself, but the distillation of all that you have observed and remembered and felt, and then can recombine to put it into the two hours’ traffic of our stage.
BOGAEV: Can you give us some examples of where you see this in action?
BOGAEV: For instance, he did Lear.
ROACH: Yes, yes. So that would be a good example because it was one of his most famous and successful Shakespearean roles. And he left a note behind, it was actually to the French when he was giving his parlor exhibition of Lear, and he explained how he came to his understanding of the crushing tragedy of Lear’s loss of his daughter. Garrick had heard tell of a madman who was kept confined in a private home nearby where Garrick lived, and he got permission to study the gestures of this madman, which consisted of an impassioned reenactment of a terrible event. And again and again and again, this poor man would go over this, a traumatized memory that he kept repeating and repeating. Evidently, he’d been holding his child in his arms on an upper story window while a parade went by outside, and he lost his grip on his little girl, and she fell to her death in the street below. His tragedy was reenacting this. Garrick had the insight that this was the Lear action. Garrick would reenact this madman’s gestures and then coolly step back and say, “Thus it was I learned to imitate madness.”
Joseph Roach interviewed by Barbara Bogaev
For years now, Tom Hill and I have been about as friendly as a doorman and tenant can be. It’s not just that we discuss baseball and politics, or people in the building. When we both have free time we talk about a mutual obsession — Mississippi. I spent about a year there as a civil rights worker and a journalist. Tom, who now lives in the Bronx, was raised on a plantation in the Delta, during the last, violent impoverished years of segregation. Emmett Till was one of his best friends. Indeed, he was with Till until about 7 p.m. on the horrible, legendary 1955 night when Till was murdered allegedly for whistling at a white woman.
Tom’s life incorporates the sea changes that have swept through Mississippi and New York over the past 25 years. It is the story of a brave man’s attempt to deal with two dangerous, difficult environments. It’s not just a doorman’s story. It is a capsule version of a crucial segment of American history.
Paul Cowan, October 8, 1980
Everybody knows theater critics are useless. All year round, they occupy free seats, and in return they do nothing but complain, complain, complain. Why, you ask, can’t they do something useful for a change?
So I was complaining (as usual), a few weeks back (Voice, May 23), about having to review the same plays over and over, when the world, so I claimed, was “full of unperformed great plays” deserving revival. In response, I only got press releases announcing that next season, like the last one, would be full of familiar titles. Some of them worth seeing again, no doubt, but not exactly unperformed rarities likely to fill a desperate hunger in our collective theatrical soul. Why can’t our theater find at least a few less well-known plays that are worth a fresh look?
That drove me, shockingly, to do something useful: compile my list of plays we rarely or never see—plays we should be seeing, because they add some quality, which our theater currently lacks.
Sin (A Cardinal Deposed) (2004) by Michael Murphy. Not trying to raise religious hackles here. Murphy’s docudrama, premiered by the New Group, uses Cardinal Law’s depositions before the Boston courts to reveal the inner workings of a bureaucracy’s systematic cover-up of child abuse—something that has tragically spread as a matter of public concern, not only within world Catholicism, but in secular realms like Penn State and Horace Mann School. Murphy’s dramatic map of the Boston case remains a painful prototype of far too many instances revealed subsequently.
The Danube (1984) and The Conduct of Life (1985) by María Irene Fornés: Two full-evening works on very different topics, both still burning. The first, depicting star-crossed lovers forced to confront ecological disaster, now seems stunningly prophetic. The second deals with a government-employed military torturer and the women in his life. Granted, I don’t see TV stars lining up to play these scripts. But I wish they would.
Ready for the River (1991) by Neal Bell: Bell is one of my leading candidates for America’s most unreasonably neglected playwright (though PTP/NYC has just revived Monster, his excellent adaptation of Shelley’s Frankenstein). You can gauge his prescience, from the opening of this play’s harrowing, surreal journey—a farmer’s wife and daughter fleeing because he has just murdered the banker who came to foreclose on the family farm. Sounds dated, I suppose.
The Fabulous Miss Marie (1971) by Ed Bullins. First produced, memorably, at Harlem’s Lafayette Theatre, Bullins’s sardonic study of L.A.’s affluent black couples, living to par-tay while sneering at civil rights marchers, uses vaudeville stylization and short, cogent scenes to treat its characters with a spicy mix of satirical malice and Chekhovian compassion.
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (1969) by Tennessee Williams. A failing genius painter and his fearsomely unhappy wife, locked in Strindbergian love-hate, fuel this most challengingly dense of Williams’s texts. But anyone who saw Donald Madden and Anne Meacham play it Off-Broadway knows its riveting power.
Who’ll Save the Plowboy? (1962) by Frank D. Gilroy. Produced by the Phoenix Theatre, this play put Gilroy on the theatrical map; a few years later, The Subject Was Roses cemented his reputation. Harsher and bleaker than the later work, Plowboy won the 1962 Best Play Obie Award.
The Gingham Dog (1969) by Lanford Wilson. Signature Theatre has kindly announced Wilson’s masterpiece, The Mound Builders, for next season. But they, or somebody, should tackle this somberly moving four-hander, mapping the breakup of an interracial marriage, which got an unjustly sniffy reception at its first production.
Lagrima del Diablo (The Devil’s Tear) (1980) by Dan Owens. Political upheaval on a Caribbean island, naturally seasoned with a dash of vodoun, centering on a dictator, an exiled archbishop, and a mute girl with prophetic powers. Owens, a cunning, complex writer, was treated handsomely by the Negro Ensemble Company, but the press, as so often, had its mind elsewhere.
Boy on the Straight-Back Chair (1969) by Ronald Tavel. A Southwestern serial killer, a startling theatricalist form, and a style harshly mixing self-aware joking with mordant ruminations on American violence: Sounds like the playwright who invented the Ridiculous, doesn’t it? It needs doing as the American Place Theatre did it then, with lucid ferocity and no camp.
The Cocktail Hour (1988) by A.R. Gurney. New Gurney plays still crop up a few times a year, but New York really deserves another chance at this funniest and wisest of the gentlemanly playwright’s rueful reflections on his vanishing elite-WASP class. It requires a four-person cast as brilliant as the Off-Broadway original; consider yourselves challenged.
The Ceremony of Innocence (1967) by Ronald Ribman. You’re an American, your country’s mired in a meaningless war, what do you write about? If you’re Ronald Ribman—another leading candidate for the title of our most underrated playwright—you create a fierce drama about the medieval King Ethelred, who retreats to a monastery rather than wage war. Another American Place Theatre discovery that urgently deserves rediscovering.
The Credeaux Canvas (2001) by Keith Bunin. Art, love, forgery, and integrity, all wrapped in one taut, tidy package about a chameleonic painter whose businesslike buddy convinces him to fake an old-master canvas. Playwrights Horizons did splendidly by it, with the then-unknown Annie Parisse and Lee Pace as model and artist. Young wannabes, take note.
A Few Stout Individuals (2002) by John Guare. Everyone’s favorite theatrical fantasist spun this dizzying web of words for the Signature’s all-Guare season. The dying U.S. Grant, ruthless general and hapless President, struggles to make sense of his life, nursemaided by his would-be publisher, Mark Twain, and a host of Gilded Age figures low and high. I’d gladly take this exhilarating trip again.
Zero Positive (1988) by Harry Kondoleon. High on the list of writers one can’t forget, Kondoleon turned out maddeningly original plays that shed their light prismatically, in disorienting multicolored flashes. At least six of Kondoleon’s plays merit revival, but this one, set partly in an AIDS ward and given a troubled premiere at the Public Theater, manifestly leads the disorientation course
- Sin (A Cardinal Deposed) (2004) by Michael Murphy.
- The Danube (1984) and The Conduct of Life (1985) by María Irene Fornés
- Ready for the River (1991) by Neal Bell
- The Fabulous Miss Marie (1971) by Ed Bullins.
- In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (1969) by Tennessee Williams.
- Who’ll Save the Plowboy? (1962) by Frank D. Gilroy.
- The Gingham Dog (1969) by Lanford Wilson.
- Lagrima del Diablo (The Devil’s Tear) (1980) by Dan Owens.
- Boy on the Straight-Back Chair (1969) by Ronald Tavel.
- The Cocktail Hour (1988) by A.R. Gurney.
- The Ceremony of Innocence (1967)
- The Credeaux Canvas (2001) by Keith Bunin.
- A Few Stout Individuals (2002) by John Guare.
- Zero Positive (1988) by Harry Kondoleon.
MICHAEL FEINGOLD, JULY 4, 2012
Although they were both born in St. Louis within three years of each other, William Burroughs did not meet Tennessee Williams until 1960, when they were briefly introduced at a table in the Cafe de Paris in Tangiers, by Paul and Jane Bowles. Burroughs had read and admired Williams’s short stories, and later in the ’60s Tennessee was known to quote at length from Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. But despite their mutual acquaintances (including the Bowleses and the painter Brion Gysin), they were not to meet again until 1975, at a gathering of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Their first conversation of any length took place at a party after a Burroughs reading at Notre Dame University earlier this year, and there they talked and carried on like old friends.
Tennessee’s new play, Vieux Carre, opens tonight on Broadway. Burroughs and I attended a preview two Saturdays ago. The next day we visited him at the Hotel Elysee, where he has maintained a spacious flat on the 12th floor for some time. It was late afternoon, and as I arrived, a few minutes after Burroughs, they were already seated at the opposite ends of a sofa. Tennessee seemed chipper; he got up to show us a pastel gouache he had just completed on his terrace that morning. Two bottles of wine arrived, and Burroughs and Williams resumed their talk.
— James Grauerholz
Orpheus Holds His Own: William Burroughs Talks with Tennessee Williams May 16, 1977, https://www.villagevoice.com/2020/02/16/william-s-burroughs-talks-with-tennessee-williams/
Herbie Hancock explains how he composed Watermelon Man and how Mongo Santamaria influenced it. He then performs both the original 1962 and the 1973 Headhunters versions.