Saturday, December 20, 2008

I have never been prouder

Actor wins part by a nose - Photo by Matt Cohen.

The late gay theater pioneer Terry Helbing holds the all-time record for conflict of interest. Not only was he the agent for my play Street Theater, he published it under his imprint of JH Press, produced it at the Mineshaft through his theater company Meridian, acted as one of the political activists in it, and was highly insulted when the gay newspaper he wrote for refused to allow him to review it. Today I am determined to challenge this record.

When I started TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence) in 1974, it was dedicated to "an honest and open exploration of the life experience and cultural sensibility of the GLBT community and to preserving and promoting our literary past in a determined effort to keep our theatrical heritage alive." At the time this was not all that easy. The new plays simply weren’t there. There were sad "coming out plays" and funny "coming out plays" and earnest "coming out plays"— and none were very entertaining. Marshall Mason once described them as "very very soft porn." We had to concentrate mostly on revivals.

Since Mark Finley, Barry Childs and I resurrected the company in 2000, it has been a different story. We have presented a long list of wonderful new scripts: Chris Weikel’s Penny Penniworth; Kathleen Warnock’s Rock The Line, Mark Finley’s adaptation of Young Stowaways in Space, Robert Patrick’s Hollywood at Sunset, David Bell’s Bernadette and the Butcher of Broadway to name but a few. Two of our company playwrights are well-deserved recipients of the Robert Chesley Award for Emerging Gay Playwrights, Kathleen Warnock in 2006 and Chris Weikel in 2007.

Which brings us to the TOSOS production of Chris Weikel’s Pig Tale directed by Mark Finley at Wings Theatre. Last week, walking past a book rack, I noticed a paperback blazoned with review quotes: "Fabulous," "Enthralling," "Captivating," "Novel and Surprising" — which more or less sums up my feelings about Pig Tale. It is an impossible premise, made totally believably by Chris Weikel. It has joy and wisdom and laughter and tears and an ending that...well, that you just will have to experience for yourself. As for the plot, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. (Check out the review quotes below.)

Mark Finley’s direction, as usual, makes the complex seem so easy and simple. Tina Howe (the play’s fairy godmother) nailed it when she described Mark’s work as stylish but at the same time real. Mark’s ability to seamlessly mix these two supposedly incompatible elements is why no one else will ever direct the NYC production of any of my plays. With essentially no budget, Mark and the designers have made a small miracle. (Thank you Ray Klausen, Liza has no idea how lucky she is.)

The cast could not be better. Patrick Porter is a romantic leading man right out of the films of the 1930s-1940s. He will steal your heart as he slowly transforms from self-centeredness into the caring lover of the final curtain. But when it comes to transformations, Jesse May wins the Golden Carrot. He spends the play giving a porcine performance with charm enough to challenge the best of the Disney barnyard. Tim Dietrich slipped in under the wire to win the role away from about 30 other very good actors. He takes a pot high to an even higher new high with unerring comic instinct! Moe Bertran (forever Auntie Mayhem) plays a whole parade of characters, lead off by the sweet and demure and splendid Mother Truth.

Which brings us to the person I always consider essential to a successful production. Back when I still directed, Billy Blackwell was my stage manager. He anticipated what I wanted before I even knew I wanted it. He died and I stopped directing. Jennifer Marie Russo is an even better stage manager. Perhaps the best I have ever encountered. To read her daily notes to the company is to know the true purpose of poetry! Her cheery demeanor and technical competence has guided this production through unreliable lights, bleeding actors and flying feet.

Pig Tale was first performed as a reading earlier this year as part of the TOSOS Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwright Project. I have never particularly liked readings, I tend to hopefully count the remaining pages. But thanks to Kathleen Warnock and Mark Finley (and the Dramatists Guild Fund), this year’s Chesley/Chambers series provided some of the most exciting theater I have seen in years. The roles that Patrick Porter and Tim Dietrich now play, were read by TOSOS company members Steven (Confessions of a Mormon Boy) Fales and Kevin (America’s oldest living juvenile) Held. Both were wonderful but ultimately not available.

Finally, I personally would like to thank Jeffery Corrick and the people of Wings for inviting TOSOS to participate in their Gay Play Series. They have been very generous with their help. But there are dark clouds ahead for them. After twenty-two years of presenting new plays and musicals by American writers and composers, they are in danger of being forced out of their space. One more OOB venue might bite the dust. It would be wonderful if the GLBT community would rally round to save this important institution, but having dedicated fifty years to this community, I tend to suspect it is very unlikely.

It is not a conflict of interest to say that Pig Tale is what TOSOS is all about. What TOSOS was in fact created for. And that answers the question I get almost daily since I first started TOSOS. This is why there needs to be "gay theater." I doubt Pig Tale could have been presented with any more honesty and integrity than TOSOS has provided. The people and events and productions of TOSOS are why I do what I do. They are in fact what I am all about. Mark Finley’s production of Chris Weikel’s Pig Tale and the TOSOS family and friends validates me. And my life. And like I say at the top of this post, I have never been prouder.
NY Blade’s Top 10 - 2008 / NY "Pick of the Week"

Quotes from the reviews:
"Let's face it: Men are pigs - and frankly, some of us have dated more than our fair share of oinkers. But none of us has been as bad off as poor Johnny Lovejoy when his long-term trick, Dave, transforms into an honest-to-goodness pig in Chris Weikel's charming queer confection Pig Tale; an Urban Faerie Story. Whether it's the snout or Dave's unseemly habit of rooting through the garbage, one fact is clear: The boy is swine....With witty banter, Weikel turns the notion of happily ever after on its well-worn head, injecting camp and fetish gags (furries, anyone?) into Pig Tale's fractured fairy-tale format....Weikel creates an engaging metaphor for modern relationships as Dave transforms from sexual object into human romantic partner." Paul Menard, Back Stage

"Pig a very smart, witty, and funny play...Chris Weikel wrote a really sweet and honest play. His characters are fully developed and engaging. The story is also refreshing and it doesn't fall into the clichés that gay-themed often do. Mark Finley has done a stellar job directing this piece. The staging feels very organic. I also thought that the set was really great. Ray Klausen has a great eye for detail...Patrick Porter is terrific as Johnny...Jesse May is amazing as Dave...Tim Dietrich is hysterical as Kyle...Moe Bertran is extremely entertaining in his many parts...(Pig Tale) definitely worth the trip to the Wings Theater to see." Roger Nasser, (

"...Weikel subtitles his work "an Urban Faerie Story." Call it a sweet love story, as well, which deserves a place beside such seasonal fantasies as Hansel and Gretel and The Nutcracker...Pig Tale will warm your heart." - Bruce-Michael Gelbert - Q (

[Wings Theatre Company presents the TOSOS production of Chris Weikel’s Pig Tale, directed by Mark Finley. Playing December 5 to January 3; Mon-Thur-Fri-Sat at 8 pm, Sun at 3:30 pm (No performances Christmas Day or New Year's Day) at Wings Theatre, 154 Christopher Street in the Archive Building. Tickets: $20 (students & seniors: $16). Reservations: 212-627-2961.]

Monday, November 24, 2008

Marriage between brother and sister

Medieval Christian wedding feast
(Notice groom on horseback chasing bride with dogs.)

Adulterer Newt Gingrich on religious values
and the reply of his sister Candace
followed by a few innocent suggestions by me

"I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion.

And I think if you believe in historic Christianity, you have to confront the fact. And for that matter, if you believe in the historic version of Islam or the historic version of Judaism, you have to confront the reality that these secular extremists are determined to impose on you acceptance of a series of values that are antithetical, they're the opposite, of what you're taught in Sunday school." — Newt Gingrich

"Dear Newt,

I recently had the displeasure of watching you bash the protesters of the Prop 8 marriage ban to Bill O'Reilly on FOX News. I must say, after years of watching you build your career by stirring up the fears and prejudices of the far right, I feel compelled to use the words of your idol, Ronald Reagan, 'There you go, again.'

However, I realize that you may have been a little preoccupied lately with planning your resurrection as the savior of your party, so I thought I would fill you in on a few important developments you might have overlooked. The truth is that you're living in a world that no longer exists. I, along with millions of Americans, clearly see the world the way it as—and we embrace what it can be. You, on the other hand, seem incapable of looking for new ideas or moving beyond what worked in the past.

This is a movement of the people that you most fear. It's a movement of progress — and your words on FOX News only show how truly desperate you are to maintain control of a world that is changing before your very eyes.

Then again, we've seen these tactics before. We know how much the right likes to play political and cultural hardball, and then turn around and accuse us of lashing out first. You give a pass to a
religious group — one that looks down upon minorities and women — when they use their money and membership roles to roll back the rights of others, and then you label us 'fascists' when we fight back. You belittle the relationships of gay and lesbian couples, and yet somehow neglect to explain who anointed you the protector of 'traditional' marriage. And, of course, you've also mastered taking the foolish actions of a few people and then indicting an entire population based on those mistakes. I fail to see how any of these patterns coincide with the values of 'historic Christianity' you claim to champion.

Again, nothing new here. This is just more of the blatant hypocrisy we're used to hearing. What really worries me is that you are always willing to use LGBT Americans as political weapons to further your ambitions. That's really so '90s, Newt. In this day and age, it's embarrassing to watch you talk like that. You should be more afraid of the new political climate in America, because, there is no place for you in it. In other words, stop being a hater, big bro." — Candace Gingrich

[Doric Wilson: It occurs to me that the Christian right may in fact be right. That the whole institution of marriage is indeed under attack. I suggest a few steps to bolster and defend it:

Divorce must instantly be prohibited. Divorced couples who remain single must be forced by law to return to their prior cohabitation. Divorced couples who have made other "adulterous" marriages must be removed from their so-called "new" families and reunited with their original spouse. By force if necessary. And this only after a sensible period of confinement as punishment for displaying such a fascistic disrespect for the sanctity of matrimony—say two years.

Children from such unholy unions should be declared "inauthentic" (along with those who actually are little bastards) and must be housed in special institutions where they can be segregated from spiritually healthy society for the rest of their lives. Any person contemplating, let alone committing, either adultery or pre-marital sex should face a mandatory 20-year minimum prison sentence, no parole. Chemical castration might be considered.

People with a history of multiple marriages and numerous affairs should have their employment opportunities seriously restricted. We would not want them teaching impressionable young children. (They could be used to staff the Institutes of Illegitimacy) And should same-sex-marriage somehow become the law of the land, gay couples must face up to exactly the same regulations. If you want it bad enough, you must be willing to pay for it.

Not only will my suggestions strengthen the American family, just think of the effect on our economy. All the Prisons of Impurity to be built and maintained. All the investigators that will be needed to enforce the anti-adultery provisions. All the staff required to detain millions upon millions of illegally conceived children. We may even have to consider importing a foreign work force. And with marriage back on safe and sacred grounds, we should then take a long close penetrating look at pornography.]

[TOSOS member David Stern adds: There must be retroactive fines for parents of children who divorce for failing to set a proper example, plus late and non-marriage penalties (as per the Emperor Augustus's laws against bachelors). Since the institution of marriage is now to be considered to have rights in and of itself, any media that tends to denigrate or undermine the institution should be sued for libel by the state, with special fines for "hapless husband" comedies and imprisonment for "fulfilled singles" dramas. Playwrights who write about alternative lifestyles that do not conclude with an epilogue at the gates of hell are to be publicly impaled.]

And for your viewing pleasure:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Art for the artist’s sake

Richard Taddei, self-portrait - 1996

My roommate back in the 1960, the composer Walter Torgerson (1940-1986), introduced me to Richard Taddei in the fall of 1967. For years Richard has been central to the gay art community. His paintings have been in countless group and one-person shows and he is widely collected ( . He is a design consultant for TOSOS, providing the graphic for Mark Finley’s The Mermaid. He is also a member of our honorary board.

Recently a montage of his paintings has been posted on youtube: . Accompanied by Leslie Ritter singing "When The Night Spills" (click "more info" for lyrics and how to purchase CDs). This is a beautiful introduction to Richard’s work. (remember to click "high quality" to fill the screen)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride

(Mom and me - Gay Pride March - NYC - 1974)

The two rallies last week in Manhattan in support of same sex marriage were both much larger than anyone anticipated. Wednesday night so many people gathered in front of the Mormon temple at Lincoln Center, they quickly overran the area set aside by the NYPD, forcing the cops to turn the event into an impromptu parade down Broadway to Columbus Circle. Steven (Confessions of a Mormon Boy) Fales described it as "beautiful men with creative posters." Susan* (my favorite Isolde) kept bumping into Whoopi Goldberg.

I joined pal Susan on Saturday afternoon at City Hall Park. This was a coordinated event, with similar rallies planned at the same time in cities all over the country. Here in NYC the rain had been pouring down all morning, but just as the rally started, the sun came shining through in a show of support. (Exactly as it did almost forty years ago when the first Gay Pride march stepped away from the relative safety of Christopher Street in the Village to proclaim ourselves out and proud to midtown Manhattan.) Again the crowd was far too large to be contained and the cops spent most of the afternoon moving the barriers to make room for more and more and even more people.

As to how many people were actually there, who knows. I have spent far too many years in too many under- and over-counted demonstrations to pay much attention to official numbers. Just say it was a very large crowd. It was young and old, and male and female (and all gender gradations in between), black and white and tan and yellow and pink (and perhaps even a purple)—a true rainbow coalition. And committed like I have not seen since the early 1970s. There may be a new movement afoot. The more or less perfunctory coverage the New York Times gave to the rallies is ultimately the proof of the importance of this day.

Starting in the late 1950s I spent a lot of my life marching and chanting: Ban-the-Bomb, Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam, the Women’s Movement, and ultimately, Gay Rights. As the infighting of political correctness in the late 1970s began to pollute the politics of liberation, I decided to drop out from dropping out. I stopped marching and chanting. Except for the Matthew Shepard vigils, it had been a lot of years since I joined the "madding crowd." Instead I decided to concentrate on what I do best, so I formed TOSOS and dedicated my career to queer theater.

But when Susan and I arrived at City Hall Park, a weird thing happened to me. I was suddenly no longer in the here and now. Suddenly I was surrounded by the ghosts of other times and other demonstrations. Billy Blackwell, Jim Owles, Mama Jean, Miss Martha Johnson, Bob Kohler, Morty Manford, Rollerna, Vito Russo, Jerry West, Waylan Flowers, Jack Logan, David Vangan (and Coco, the chimp), Ruth Truth, Jerry Fitzpatrick, Nancy from the One Potato, Rex and Sy and Tom Ross from the Roadhouse, Ty from Ty’s, Lou Thomas from Colt—the list is endless. Not all dead, but they were of another time come back, it seemed, to haunt me. And at my age it is not nice to find yourself up to your neck in ectoplasm.

To quote from my new play, "gay history is last week, but only if it’s longer than 7 inches." These were some of our true heroes, and for the most part they remain either forgotten or as footnotes. I haven’t felt so very alone in a long time. Nor so sad. Nor so out of it. Later that night after a reading at TOSOS, I was asked if I planned to write about the rally. I answered that I was still too spooked so to speak to write. That these manifestations seemed to be all about loss and friends and times long gone. Someone suggested I was looking at it all the wrong way. And I suddenly realized they were right. I had not gone back to the past, but the past had indeed come forward to join and support us.

And indeed there was that sort of feeling in the air. And for all the seriousness of the situation, there was a certain joy and a new sense of hope. And a new belief in the ability to effect change. Amazing what can happen when you elect an intelligent and caring man as your president. The two guys in front of me stood with their arms around each other’s shoulders, the ease of their affection impossible when I was their age. They seemed somehow so certain of the future. Next to Susan stood two young women with a wonderful dog and an obvious and equal commitment to each other and determination to move forward.

I have to admit when it comes to "gay marriage," I personally am a lot less than convinced. The atheist in me is very suspicions of religious "sacraments." The French (thanks to the Napoleonic Code) have a much better system. All contracts between couples are first and foremost civil. After you are joined together by an appointed official, you are more than free to find some church to bless you union should you want (and assuming the fun-loving Christians don’t toss you butt first out the door). The right to be a family should not depend on some primitive ceremony designed by a patriarchal society primarily to protect a husband’s control over the property, life, and very body of his wife. If civil unions do not cover all the necessary issues, then laws should be expanded to make them do so.

But matrimony is really not the main issue here. The passage of Prop 8 puts a spotlight on two far more important principles: the separation of Church and State and the idea that the majority can vote to limit the freedom of any minorities it finds distasteful. People should really watch out what they wish for. Majorities change. If Mormon fecundity procreates a population explosion, are Catholics really safe? Will the huge broods of full- and half- and out-of-wedlock born-again Evangelists multiply in sufficient numbers threaten to abort the very advance of science? When Hispanics become the majority, will they vote to replace Thanksgiving turkeys with tacos? (Actually, I’d vote for that!) There have been complaints about the tenor and bitterness of the demonstrations. Seems we should all go sit quietly at the back of the bus. Some people just don’t seem to get it. How polite and patient will our detractors be when their lives and families are threatened? (As I recall the election sparked a run on gun sales)

I have always suspected the real reason that separation of Church and State made it into our constitution was the keep the government from curbing the excesses of organized religion. God has always been big business in this country. And oversight and regulation is anathema to corporate entities however holy. As has been recently proven, the golden rule is "keep your eyes on the Good Book and out of my account books." The tax-exempt shearing of the faithful sheep has been funding political subversion and bigotry for more than a century. Sure wish Henry VIII would come back and dissolve our religious cartels. Think of all that money actually going to some good or useful cause, instead of wasted on eye liner, or a room in some warm sheet motel, or for theme parks that make the Flintstones seem downright educational. If we don’t watch them guys, we will be living on a flat earth again. And paying for it with our taxes!

One thing is for certain. Thanks to the Internet (the most important technical advance since the Gutenberg bible) the word is out. The times indeed are a’changin’. The recent election and the rapid way the Prop 8 rallies were organized proves the fat lady has yet to sing! And when she does, you will hear her loud and clear on youtube. Were I younger, I might seriously consider giving up playwriting in favor of becoming a gay divorce lawyer, all the Sturm und Drang of drama but a lot more lucrative. In fact gay divorce lawyer will probably replace hair dresser as the standard gay stereotype. As my friend David Stern says, "we should listen to the Mormons: marriage is a sacred institution between a man and several early adolescents."

Guess maybe I am not so alone after all. In fact what with the past and the present, and new friends and old, my days are pretty full.

(*not to be confused with the other Susan who is much much older and legally prevented from singing)

Speaking of youtube: some random rally site: Chicago (courtesy of AK Miller) and Charleston, S.C. (courtesy of Kathleen Warnock)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Gay National Holiday

Halloween used to be my favorite holiday. My first Halloween in this city I won a prize as the "Red Shoes" - don't ask - at a "come as a film title" party thrown by Howard Richardson (one of the playwrights of Dark of the Moon). It was my first and last time in drag - and it was gender-fuck far before its time!

My Latino upstairs neighbors are not the hot and sexy "Jonathan Cedano" types. They are short, round, and heavy of foot (and very loud of mouth!) Living under them is the punishment I suppose I deserve for my obscenely low rent.

And last night in honor of the Gay National Holiday they were even heavier of foot and in high heels. As were the thirty or so friends they brought home with them after the Village Halloween parade. At 5 this morning they rang my bell to get in the building. When someone finally buzzed them in, I stood at my door to eager confront the — what is the Spanish for "little darlings?"

I am not sure which was more frightening, the smeared and tattered and bedraggled leftovers of their splendorless drag or me in my less than attractive sleepwear with my hair askew and teeth out and seven nasty looking bandages on my face (thanks to my most recent visit to the skin doctor.)

It was ugly meets uglier. The Japanese could have made a film. When Faggots Collide! It is now past noon and they are still up there stumbling around. And thanks to the "boys" upstairs, I still have not had sleep. And I am not all that fond of Halloween any longer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Claus von Stauffenberg

Thom Gunn (1929-2004)

[I met the poet Thom Gunn in the late 1960s on Eighth Street in the Village. He introduced me to my first NYC leather bar and many years later while I was bartending at TY's, I introduced him to his last lover. The recent brouhaha about the new Tom Cruise film Valkyrie reminded me of one my favorite poems by him. I post it below plus two more from Thom’s collection My Sad Captains.]

Claus von Stauffenberg
—of the bomb plot on Hitler, 1944

What made the place a landscape of despair,
History stunned beneath, the emblems cracked?
Smell of approaching snow hangs on the air;
The frost meanwhile can be the only fact.

They chose the unknown, and the bounded terror,
As a corrective, who corrected live
Surveying without choice the bounding error:
An unsanctioned present must be primitive.

A few still have the vigor to deny
Fear is a natural state; their motives neither
Of doctrinaire, of turncoat, nor of spy.
Lucidity of thought draws them together.

The maimed young Colonel who can calculate
On two remaining fingers and a will,
Takes lessons from the past, to detonate
A bomb that Brutus rendered possible.

Over the maps a moment, face to face:
Across from Hitler, whose grey eyes have filled
A nation with the illogic of their gaze,
The rational man is poised, to break, to build.

And though he fails, honor personified
In a cold time where honor cannot grow,
He stiffens, like a statue, in mid-stride
—Falling toward history, and under snow.

Innocence —for Tony White

by Thom Gunn

He ran the course and as he ran he grew,
And smelt his fragrance in the field. Already,
Running he knew the most he ever knew,
The egotism of a healthy body.

Ran into manhood, ignorant of the past:
Culture of guilt and guilt's vague heritage,
Self-pity and the soul; what he possessed
Was rich, potential, like the bud's tipped rage.

The Corps developed, it was plain to see,
Courage, endurance, loyalty and skill
To a morale firm as morality,
Hardening him to an instrument, until

The finitude of virtues that were there
Bodied within the swarthy uniform
A compact innocence, childlike and clear,
No doubt could penetrate, no act could harm.

When he stood near the Russian partisan
Being burned alive, he therefore could behold
The ribs wear gently through the darkening skin
And sicken only at the Northern cold,

Could watch the fat burn with a violet flame
And feel disgusted only at the smell,
And judge that all pain finishes the same
As melting quietly by his boots it fell.

[I post the last Thom Gunn poem for a writer friend of mine at Sarah Lawrence Collage]

Readings in French - 2

Nothing Unusual about Marcel Proust
All are unmasked as perverts sooner or later,
With a notable exception—the narrator.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Come to the cabaret

KT Sullivan is a wonder.

But first a bit of background:

In my high school days back in the late 1950s, I was out to anyone who actually knew me. I grew up in a wheat ranch town in south-eastern Washington State. Think Brokeback Mountain. And, yes, I "made it" with actual cowboys and sheep herders, but trust me, in no way were they Jake Gyllenhaal or Heath Ledger (I didn’t run into cowboys who looked like them till many years later at The Mineshaft). Not that the rustic life appealed to me all that much. I was more a Noel Coward wannabe. Keep your roaming buffalo, give me Manhattan straight up with a cherry.

Since I disdained the safety of the closet, for self-preservation I tended to avoid the kids I went to school with. Instead I socialized with adults from our local amateur theater, the Richland Players. If I wore a suit and tie I could easily pass for legal age even in a state with determined restrictions against underage drinking. So after a show with the Players, off we would go across river to the Top Hat Café, the only "night club" for miles. While my school fellows were up in the Horse Heaven Hills with a six-pack of beer, I would sit at a table sipping a bourbon and 7-Up (yes, I know), the very epitome of sagebrush and cactus sophistication. Or so I thought at the time. (accordion ensembles, an occasional female impersonator, and as I recall, a trained dog act.)

On a trip to NYC in 1958 I finally encountered the real thing when a cabbie dropped me off at the Living Room and I heard Kaye Ballard (later she and I had a running gag about Coos Bay, Oregon). Her accompanist took me down to the Village for my first encounter with a big city gay bar. (Mary’s on West 8th Street–Seattle at the time had a much better bar scene.) He also took me to hear Mabel Mercer sing the "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," a homosexual rite of passage back in the day. When I arrived for good in 1959 I was eager and ready for New York City night life. (And more than a trifle "piss-elegant") I had been here less a year when some actor types took me to an Irish Bar on Sixth Avenue (now the site of CBS) where we pushed past construction workers sloshing beer and munching corn beef (always rotating on a spit in the window) and stopped in front of what looked to be a blank wall.

They pushed, and part of the blank wall became a door into a back room appropriately called the BAQ Room. It was all Chinese red and bamboo framing wall to wall amber mirrors (rumor had it that Cecil Beaton had personally decorated the room). And in a corner, singing without amplification was Janice Mars, considered by many (myself included) to be "America's answer to Edith Piaf. " Rex Reed wrote of her, "If Sarah Bernhardt could sing, she would have been Janice Mars." A few of her pals (Marlon Brando, Judy Holiday, Tennessee Williams, etc.), had put up the money to open what was a de facto private club. I don't recall there was ever a sign. You had to know just where to push on the wall to get into the room.

The clientele was either rich and celebrated or young, unknown, and very poor. There were no B&T. Us "babes in the woods" drank for free thanks to the waiter, who would pad the bills of the unsuspecting VIPs with the cost of our drinks. We would get there early and take over the best tables and the celebs would have to sit with us. It was a popular hideaway for star couples coupling with the wrong person. The still married Rex Harrison perused Kay Kendall here, Bacall dated Robards, Richard Burton (pre-Taylor) snuck around with just about everyone else. Tennessee Williams was usually the only innocent person in the place.

The BAQ Room quickly became my home away from home. It was Janice who introduced me to brandy stingers (an addiction I had for many years). I even bunked for a year with Don Evans, her accompanist . Suddenly the room closed, I never quite knew why. A recording of Janice (with arrangements by Don) had been made but it remained an urban myth until just a few years ago when the master tapes were discovered in Marlon Brando's study. Her nephews (true heroes) released the session as a CD. ( ) A trifle overarranged by my old roommate, it still gives you the chance to hear the first of my three all time favorite ladies of cabaret. The disc ends with Janice singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," which she always did at last call. I was in the BAQ Room the night it closed forever. As Janice began the song for the final time, the air conditioner caught fire and filled the room with smoke. A fitting end. Janice ultimately disappeared to the seclusion of a trailer deep in the desert of New Mexico.

I spent the 1960s frequenting the almost endless list of NY cabaret clubs. Upstairs at the Downstairs (for quick, clever revues), The Blue Angel (to hear Bobby Short at the piano singing "The Motion Picture Ball"), The Bon Soir (for Jorie "I can’t cook" Remus–and to cruise the bar), The Showplace (to watch Ruth Buzzi invent the little old lady with a purse) and to the many clubs on Grove Street where Marie Blake reigned as the empress of the piano bar. My first night in the village I wandered in to Arthur’s and heard her; twenty years later when I briefly left NYC for family reasons, Lady Jane Lowry and I went to hear her my last night in the city.

It was at The Showplace, in 1961, where I met my next favorite lady of cabaret, Joanne Beretta, and one of my all time closest friends, her accompanist, the song writer John Wallowitch. (what can I say, I love a piano). I have had a serious crush on Joanne Beretta all these many years. Look into her blue eyes and it is instant servitude for life. She can make you roar with laughter and break your heart a moment later. She stopped performing in the early 1970s, but has recently returned to the circuit ( ). She may well be the single most honest signer I have ever heard. Every song she sings instantly becomes my number one all time favorite. Until she sings the next one. Basically shy and diffident when it comes to patrician politics, she generally finds something to say. Plans are under way for a new show this season. The where and when will be listed here.

As to John Wallowitch, it is far beyond my abilities (and the resources of this blog) to do anything but barely scratch the surface (Wikipedia has an excellent article). I have had few better friends. He was loyal and generous and sweet and funny (and–I am also told– a Doctor Jeckel and Mr. Hyde–but I never met the monster). John trained to be classical pianist at Juilliard, you should have heard his Ravel. It was his elegant style at the piano that first drew me to him. No one was more supportive of my career than John. He was a huge fan of my plays. Whenever he spotted me in an audience he would introduce me as a major American playwright much to the puzzlement of most of the people in the room who of course had not the vaguest idea who I was.

In the last few years of his life, I took great pride that TOSOS (my theater company) presented New York Minutes, Mark Finley’s perfectly conceived revue of John’s songs. It opened to much acclaim and raves for a wonderful cast. John truly adored it (and even accompanied it one night on the piano). We brought the show back for a second run. When John walked into the Duplex it was clear the end was in sight. Plans are underway for the TOSOS Billy Blackwell/John Wallowitch Musical Theatre Project (Rick Hinkson, director) to revive New York Minutes next season as a memorial to John. With all the controversy surrounding "gay marriage," you should check out a DVD that tenderly documents the longtime relationship John had with Bertram Ross, star dancer for Martha Graham. (Wallowitch & Ross: This Moment - available on Netflix
) No ceremony could add anything, their commitment to each other, to quote Robert Frost, "is the bond hydrogen makes with oxygen in a cup of spring water."

For my birthday John would give me Boss cologne for men. The last few months he was too weak to get out to buy it. Every time I saw him he would apologize profusely and I would tell him "not to worry." In mid June of 2007, Ann Ruckert (another hero) organized a session in her apartment to let him record what would be his last CD (A Miracle on 71st Street ) . As I was dressing I reached for my "substitute" cologne (Old Spice) and laughed. I suspected somehow John had managed to get me my birthday present. Indeed, as I walked in, John met me at the door with a wicked smile and a bottle of Boss. This island is somehow a lot less without him. Certainly large chunks of class and style is missing. To me he is still over there on the East Side, sitting at his piano in the"Manhattan Blue" twilight, composing his second thousand songs. You know you have achieved some sort of immorality when Elaine Stritch crashes your memorial service.

Which brings us to the last but by no means least of my three favorite ladies of cabaret. The elegant KT Sullivan. But before I go there, I should explain what I have recently discovered about myself. Cabaret seems to have dictated not only my emotional awareness but the very moral compass of my life. Everyone needs a Bible, mine, it turns out, is the "Great American Song Book." (You go to your church, I’ll go to mine) Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Dorothy Fields, John Wallowitch, Oscar Hammerstein II, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Irene Franklin, Stephen Sondheim (you fill in the rest), their lyrics gave me not only an essential point of view, they helped me develop my whole survival strategy. They are my chapter and verse.

Last Friday night, Rick Hinkson took me to the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel to hear KT Sullivan. She is currently performing All the Things You Are, her survey of the songs of Jerome Kern, and the ghosts of the Round Table could not be happier. In fact they are sloshing ectoplasmic gin all over the place in gleeful celebration. Her phrasing is perfect, her taste flawless, her courage amazing. When did you last hear a soprano knock it out of the park with "Ol’ Man River?" She is the most recent in a long list of great Gotham dames dating all the back to Lillian Russell. Someone should be showering her with diamonds! At the top of her set, KT sang "Land Where the Good Songs Go," as I left the Algonquin I wondered if a cab would know the directions to get me there.

She is accompanied by the amazing Tedd Firth (her Musical Director) on the piano, and equally awesome saxophonist, Andy Ferber, and bass player, Steve Doyle. Oak Room is a bit pricey, but you might consider selling your significant other or if you don’t have one, maybe your mother. It would be worth it. [KT Sullivan, All the Things You Are, Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, September 23 to October 11. Tuesday-Thursday 8:30 pm; Friday & Saturday 8:30 pm & 11:00 pm. Reservations 212 419-9331.]

For by far the best history of cabaret I recommend James Gavin’s Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret ( )

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman 1925 - 2008

Gore Vidal introduced me to Paul Newman once many many years ago. He had the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen and was probably the gentlest person I ever met.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Audience "Energized to the Max" at 2008 IT Awards
by Doric Wilson

"There are two kinds of theatre in this country. Commercial theatre ... and theatre that matters. You make the theatre that matters."Edward Albee at the 2008 New York Innovative Theatre Awards

Monday night (Sept 22, 2008) was the fourth annual IT Awards. This year the New York Innovative Theatre Awards honored the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Caffe Cino, the birth of off-off-Broadway. IT Award founders Jason Bowcutt, Shay Gines, and Nick Micozzi presented another perfect evening.

Lisa Kron, part of the Five Lesbian Brothers for twenty years, was a charming host who even managed to get the playwright Edward Albee to autograph her arm. Blue Man Group offered very funny very loud very unnerving entertainment. They even spooked the people waiting back stage. (Playwright Tina Howe fell in love with their blue eyes!) The presenters represented a wide range of theatrical disciplines, from artistic to technical. The choreography award uniquely includes fight design, and indeed went to a fight coordinator. Don Moses Schreier let his laptop present the award for sound design. Tina Howe (TOSOS guardian angel) presented the Outstanding Script awards and Edward Albee (a long, long time friend) presented the Outstanding Production Award.

Doric Wilson (left) and Edward Albee
photo by Jamie Heinlein

The 2008 Artistic Achievement Award (which I received last year), was given by Olympia Dukakis to OOB pioneer, founder of the Living Theater, and lifelong political activist, Judith Malina. Boomerang Theatre Company deservedly received the 2008 Caffe Cino Fellowship Award. The Stewardship Award went to the mother and son team, Martin Denton and Rochelle Denton of New York Theatre Experience ( In the four years of the IT Awards, I can think of no one who embodies the legacy of the Cino more than Martin and Rochelle.

TOSOS people were all over the place, starting with Award founders Jason (I didn’t mean what I said!), Shay and Nick. Cultist Christopher Borg was in charge of communications, with buffed Desmond Dutcher doing some of the voice-overs, and debonair (Chesley Award winning playwright) Chris Weikel handing out the "envelopes" (Tina Howe remarked as she received hers, "they are real!"). Diminutive David Bishop was busy breaking my heart (among others), while statuesque (Chesley Award winning playwright) Kathleen Warnock gave networking a new depth of meaning. Aging juvenile Leicester Landon caught the eye of at least one celebrity while demure Jamie Heinlein was looking younger than ever.

Steven McElroy and Brett Douglas were there representing monogamy in the outer boroughs, while board members Jonathan Reuning and Ian Marshall (United Stages) stood about looking like the distinguished publishers that they are. Bob Lee (like myself) gave up the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera which is something Jason, Shay and Nick really need to work out. Opera first, then theatre! Last year I considered sneaking out of the ceremony after I received my award to hurry up to Times Square to watch the live broadcast. Prowling panther-like was the TOSOS resident blond, Karen Stanion, looking for a kill. Or a play.

TOSOS people also won and didn’t win awards. Outstanding Production of a Musical went to Yank! with book by David Zellnik, directed by Igor Goldin (both founding members of TOSOS). A love story between two men in World War II, plans are underway to move the musical for a commercial run. You must see it. David Pumo was nominated for his sweet funny play Auntie Mayhem. It was a real disappointment when he didn’t win. No play nominated this year had a larger heart.

The audience was energized to the max and very generous in their outpouring of love and fellowship. The "goodie" bags in our seats included a white frisbee. Bill Irwin caused an avalanche of chaos when near the end of the evening he directed the audience to throw them at the stage on a count of three. For a full list of the winners go to