Thursday, March 31, 2011

Proud to Know You review:

Proud To Know You
A Cabaret Celebration of
Doric Wilson's Fifty Years as a Playwright

Reviewed by Jay Reisberg - March 23

Proud to Know You is the kind of event that could take place only in Manhattan, and perhaps only be fully appreciated in Manhattan with its proprietary array of local luminaries on stage and in the audience. It was a unique evening honoring playwright Doric Wilson.

The Honoree, whose early work at Café Cino in the 1960s, subsequent plays, and his co-founding of The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS: the first professional theater company to address the gay experience openly and authentically) created his well-earned status as one of the pioneers of off-off-Broadway theater. The evening, hosted by Rick Hinkson and seamlessly directed by Mark Finley, included cabaret performances by long-time friends (not just acquaintances) of Mr. Wilson, interspersed with five scenes from Mr. Wilson's plays.

After introductions and a video tribute to Mr. Wilson, created for the New York Innovative Theater Awards in 2007 (where he received their Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award), Jamie Heinlein performed Eve's speech from And He Made a Her, Mr. Wilson's feminist take on the Adam/Eve tale.

The singing commenced with Michael Lynch (with his customary over-the-top glorious bombast and self-delight), singing an augmented version of Janis Ian's "Havin' a Party" from his autobiographical show Livin' on the Real.

Next, Morry Campbell sang "On My Own" from his CD A Long Way Home. Morry's performance was delightfully bonkers, real performance art, taking the folk genre into undiscovered country.

A brief scene from Wilson's A Perfect Relationship was up next, movingly performed by actors Aaron Tone and J.Stephen Brantley.

Steve Ross, a living cabaret institution, carried forth with a melodious "Here's to Us" from Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh's Little Me.

Cabaret diva, Lodi Carr followed Mr. Ross, singing "For All We Know," the 1934 song composed by Coots & Lewis. (Sorry, Carpenters fans!)

As Mr. Wilson is a lover of opera, so it was fitting -- indeed required! -- that the festivities included a dose of High Art. First, Zachary Stains, a young opera singer, performed Kern/Hammerstein's "All the Things You Are" twice -- and radically different each time. First he sang the song in the currently popular precious style with the well-known lyrics. Okay, I said to myself, yet another cute rendition ala Mandy Patinkin. But then Mr. Stains then announced he would now sing the original lyrics as they were written for the 1939 show Very Warm for May. Mr. Stains sang the vintage lyrics in full voice, devoid of all pretense. He took the high notes to the operatic ionosphere, revealing the first version as a jest. What a relief! What a fine singer!

Furthering the operatic agenda was Susan Marie Pierson, international dramatic soprano, who powerfully sang "Dich Teure Halle" from Wagner's Tannhäuser.

K.T. Sullivan, consummate practitioner of the nearly extinct genre of authentic cabaret, took the stage and declared that she would sing a medley of 29 songs from 1929 (with the exception of a few contemporary samplings tossed in for amusing good measure). Ms. Sullivan performed each snippet with the sincerity and presence of the highly polished artist that she is, and I was hypnotically pulled in each time. When she artfully -- though abruptly -- transitioned to the next song, it felt like the brakes were suddenly applied, and I mentally went flying. But one bar into the next song, I was entranced again, and so it went with tease/transition, tease/transition -- well, she was so incredible that I just wanted to hear her complete every song. Only a singer such as Ms. Sullivan, who intimately knows each of the songs, has painstakingly set them, honed them over time, could pull off this tour-de-force.

Christopher Borg then performed Lane's speech from Mr. Wilson's Now She Dances!, a take on Oscar Wilde's Salome which Wilson rewrote figuratively speaking as "The Importance of Being Salome." Mr. Borg is an actor so skilled that he could have entered in character, spoken not a word, held the stage and received an ovation. As it was, he spoke the words of Lane's speech, and did receive an ovation. Christopher Borg is a consummate actor!

Joanne Beretta took the stage to sing "My Favorite Year" and "My Shining Hour." In 1961, two Manhattan singers were the talk of the town: Barbra Streisand and Joanne Beretta. Ms. Beretta held forth at the long gone Showplace in Greenwich Village, where Johnnie Mathis and Carmen McRae were her fans. She disappeared in the '70s, but in 2006, with the prompting of John Wallowitch reemerged with her CD entitled Love Life. Writer James Gavin in his review of Love Life wrote: "To this day she has a knack of drawing a roomful of strangers into moments of such intimacy that time seems to stop." Time, indeed, did stop while Ms. Beretta sang.

The audience was then treated to another scene from Now She Dances!, this time performed by Karen Stanion. The eternally hilarious "Soup Speech," which in the play is delivered by Gladys the maid, describes her career as a "theatrical domestic." Gladys explains her arch "method-acting" procedure for serving soup.

Two songs written by John Wallowitch were heard next. For fifty years, Mr. Wallowitch wrote and sang in Manhattan, and to tell of his rich career would take up the entire space of this review and then some. I recommend viewing the very fine documentary This Moment about John Wallowitch and his partner, dancer Bert Ross, which was directed by Richard Morris. Wikipedia's John Wallowitch page is also informative.

The dashingly handsome and talented Robert Locke sang Mr. Wallowitch's plaintive "The World through Your Eyes." Robert Locke Trio will perform original compositions at the Thalia Café next month.

Playwright Chris Weikel followed with Mr. Wallowitch's "I Live Alone Again," which had a duel quality. The initial sing-through bemoaned in detail what it is like to be living alone after a breakup. The second emphasizes the words in such a way the very things bemoaned become sources of liberation and freedom. Weikel's play Penny Penniworth, about a short-staffed theater troupe trying to bring a "lost" Dickens novel to the stage, enjoyed a return engagement last year at TADA Youth Theater.

Steve Ross retook the stage with his customary panache, singing a New York song pairing, consisting of Cole Porter's "Take Me Back to Manhattan" and "I Happen to Like New York" from the 1930 musical The New Yorkers.

Playwright and actor, Charles Busch, then bounced on stage, announcing that he was to read what he purported to be a long unsent letter to Doric Wilson. (I believed him. Foolish me!) Mr. Busch proceeded to deliver a broad, affectionate, and absolutely hilarious adaptation of Judy Garland's "Dear Mr. Gable/You Made Me Love You" from the film Broadway Melody of 1938. This "Dear Mr. Wilson." could only spring from the unique mindset of and be spoken and sung by the enormously multi-talented Charles Busch.

Concluding with Doric's appreciative acknowledgment, the evening was capped with the full company singing Wallowitch's "This Moment." The audience was welcomed to join-in for the last chorus which commences with the words "It takes a life, to realize what life is all about, this moment."

Afterword: Several months ago I hosted a houseguest, a 33-year old singer/musician from Sacramento. My guest was very personable, intelligent, and talented -- but culturally illiterate. I kept wondering what he had been paying attention to for the last twenty years. Perhaps Sacramento lacks anything to securely hold one's attention, judged by the standard of the cultural hothouse/cloud-chamber that is Manhattan. My guest would ask innocent questions that, if answered properly, would require delivering an extended exegesis. Well-known names relating to music and performance history -- my guest's chosen field -- were unknown to him. Now, I concede one can live an almost worthy life lacking Manhattan-based cultural literacy, but goodness, who would want to? Proud to Know You, included personalities and songs that are well known to us, because we have for decades paid close attention to present and past theater, singers, composers, playwrights, as well as art, literature, design, and cultural politics.

I bring this up because the range of material in this tribute to Doric Wilson fully reflected the richness of the Honoree's knowledge, loves, and oeuvre, and likewise that of those honoring him. At the end of this honoring of five decades of work, Doric Wilson said he did not expect to be around for a second tribute in half a century. Now I ask: Does your own experience of the trends of our culture give you any confidence that we will have someone like Doric Wilson to celebrate fifty years hence?

[Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, assistant to the founder of New York's Love Street Theatre, and bon vivant at large.]

Dusty Wright's Culture Catch

Saturday, March 19, 2011

And a Great Time Was Had by All

Doric Wilson at the Caffe Cino, March 18, 1961
(Time Magazine photo)

On March 18, 1961, my comedy And He Made a Her, a feminist take on Adam and Eve, opened at the Caffe Cino on Cornellia Street. It was directed by Paxton Whitehead and starred Jane Lowry as Eve. It was a huge hit. The success, in the words of playwright Robert Patrick, “helped establish the Cino as a venue for new plays, and materially contributed to the then-emerging concept of Off-Off-Broadway.” It also began my career.

On Wednesday, March 16, 2011, Rick Hinkson produced for TOSOS, in association with United Stages, a cabaret celebration of my fifty years as a playwright at Phil Bond’s Laurie Beechman Theatre on 42nd Street. It was directed by Mark Finley with musical direction by Steve Ross. Jennifer Marie Russo was stage manager. The cast included some of this cities very best performers (they are all listed below) and anyone who was there will tell you it was an absolutely astonishing evening. (I have asked the cast and audience to comment below). What follows are my program notes (slightly amended) for the evening.

Proud To Know You Program Notes

I love many things and many people. I love New York City, literature from the Greeks to the late 1940s, old fashioned authentic leather bars, almost all paintings and sculpture, Terry Pratchett, all history ancient to modern, Manhattan cocktails straight up, Ben and Jerry ice cream, Jane Lowry, the list is endless. I only “like” theater, it is difficult to love an addiction. I do love doing it.

I particularly love cabaret and opera. My first night in this city I went to a club called the Living Room where Kaye Ballard’s accompanist picked me up. Since then I love all piano men. I also love all lady cabaret singers. Over and over again, they rip out my heart and shred it and scatter it asunder and then the opera singers thunder on stage and stomp all over the pieces! No wonder I have never had a lover. Reality could never compare with the Great American Songbook (not to mention Puccini).

I am very honored by the line-up for tonight’s entertainment. Not only because they are all extremely talented performers, but because they are all my friends – some of them almost forever. I am also proud that the actors and some of the singers come from TOSOS, my theater company. If the evening seems to slip and slide on the edge of rampant nostalgia, that’s what happens when you celebrate a person who just turned 72 years of age.

Mark Finley, artistic director of TOSOS, and director of this evening, starts the show. Mark is by far the best director I have ever met. And the only director I know who can make play readings exciting. Stop by one of the Chesley/Chambers evenings and you will see what I mean. He is also a very talented playwright. He also owns Simon, the cat who rules the world. (To get on the TOSOS list, email

I met Rick Hinkson, tonight’s producer and master of ceremonies, in Seattle in the 1980s when I convinced him to play a villain in my play Street Theater. He was heart broken if the audience didn’t hiss him as he exited the stage. His most recent credit was directing The Best of Jim Caruso's Cast Party, produced by musical theater hero Scott Siegel, at Town Hall in mid-February. It starred Liza Minnelli (looking spectacular), Chita Rivera, Lucie Arnaz, and Marilyn Maye among many others. It is already near the top of legendary NYC evenings. Trust me, no one hissed.

Tribute Video. Created by New York Innovative Theatre Awards in 2007 when they presented me with their lifetime Artistic Achievement Award. (This was followed by a surprise video from the Holy High Gate Keeper of the Cino Legacy, Robert Patrick -

1.) Jamie Heinlein, Eve’s speech from And He Made a Her. I cannot even begin to say how much I love Jamie Heinlein. I only need to think of her name and I smile. And if I think of her on stage I smile even wider. As And He Made a Her began my career, it is only appropriate that a speech from the play opens this show. Critic Jonathan Warman wrote of the recent revival “Many, many plays and musicals have been written about this duo, most of them beyond dreadful. And He Made Her is easily the best play on the subject I've ever seen.” And He Made Her is published by United Stages and includes a 1961 recording of the Cino production with Jane Lowry, Gary Filsinger, and Paxton Whitehead and an announcement by Joe Cino. Tonight Eve expresses her profound disappointment at Adam’s refusal to play “the game.”

2.) Michael Lynch, “Havin' a Party” (Janis Ian, additional text Michael Lynch). In 1983 in the bowels of the notorious Mineshaft, Michael took permanent possession of the role of Boom Boom in Street Theater, a role he will be repeating this summer at the GLBT Center as part of Pride Week. A loyal friend and confirmed vegetarian I know of no one with more dignity nor determination nor generosity of heart. The song he sings is from his autobiographical show Livin’ on the Real, a HUGE success at this year’s HOT! Festival at Dixon Place. He is accompanied by his long-time collaborator, Steve Kaufman.

3.) Morry Campbell, “On My Own” (from his album long way home) I respect few people more than I respect Morry. Over a decade ago he survived a life shattering experience that more or less forced him to reinvent himself. This he did with such ease only his lover, Barry Childs, knows the real price he paid. With the help of Ronny Lee he perfected his guitar playing and began writing fiercely original songs. His album long way home is available from and a new collection is due shortly. Or search for him on iTunes. (

4.) Aaron Tone and J.Stephen Brantley, in a scene from A Perfect Relationship. Aaron and J.Stephen were both in David Parr's hysterically funny Slap&Tickle last summer in Provincetown. Aaron was also featured in James Edwin Parker's internationally acclaimed 2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night. Everything you could possibly want to know about J.Stephen may be learned by visiting or A Perfect Relationship is the least political of all my plays. In the early 1980s it was to open off-Broadway at the Lortel with plans to move it uptown. It was to be first the big gay “crossover” play and my at long last big break. And then AIDS hit, and it was far too sexually explicit for the times that followed. Oddly it has become a huge hit in India for the last few years where it has become very political indeed, partly responsible for some major liberation gains there. Ward (Aaron) and Greg (J.Stephen) are strictly roommates, no love, no nothing. And then a trick named Barry moves in on their lives and tears their non-relationship apart. Not to mention taking over their apartment. Ward has just discovered that Greg and Barry have...well you get the picture. (PS - the play could have been written for Aaron and

5.) Steve Ross, “Here's to Us” (Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh, Little Me, 1962). Cabaret legend Steve Ross is everyone’s favorite piano man. In the best show rooms of London, Paris, and New York City he is called the “crown prince of cabaret.” He just finished his annual run at the Algonquin and has generously not only volunteered to be Music Director for tonight but also accompanist. Look up words like class, charm or debonair in any dictionary – you should find his name is the first definition. His upcoming schedule is far too busy to fit here. Instead go to

6.) Lodi Carr, “For All We Know” (J. Fred Coots & Sam M. Lewis, 1934). Stand next to Lodi and her joie de vivre will surge through you like a lightning strike. She has lived a life that makes Auntie Mame look like a recluse. She has so much energy, just thinking about her as I write this makes me need a nap. She has had a long career as a jazz ballad singer. You can hear her most every Monday night at Jim Caruso's Cast Party. Also keep an eye on Don’t Tell Mama for a possible show. Her album (Lady Bird) is available from She is accompanied by jazz piano great Jon Weber.

7.) Zachary Stains, “All the Things You Are” (Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II, Very Warm for May, 1939). Zack showed up at my birthday party two years ago and we have been friends ever since. Opera fans know him in the role of Hercules on the DVD of Vivaldi’s Ercole sul Termodonte at the Spoleto Festival (get it on Netflix). He is busy working on Victor Herbert - Never Before Recorded Songs. This is a huge project which includes singers like Rebecca Luker, cellist Jerry Grossman, and award winning sound engineer Judith Sherman. New World Records plans to release the first CD in the fall of 2011. (

8.) Alex Bond, Muriel’s speech from A Perfect Relationship: Alex is my most recent “bff.” In June she and David L. Carson will read selections from her novel Late Nights with the Boys: Confessions of a Leather Bar Chanteuse as part of the 2011 Planet Connections Festivities as a fund-raiser for PFLAG. In A Perfect Relationship Muriel makes her living renting and then subletting apartments, until Barry manages to get the lease for Greg and Ward’s apartment in his name. When Barry offers them his old apartment, it is the last straw for Muriel. (

9.) Susan Marie Pierson, “Dich teure Halle” (Elisabeth's aria from Wagner’s Tannhäuser). I met Susan at the Met. Where else do you meet a Wagnerian soprano? If you know me, you knew there had to be opera here tonight (pace, Janet). Susan’s credits include seven separate Ring Cycles. Her debut as Isolde in Tristan und Isolde is recorded by Titanic Records. She is one of those flawlessly perfect people who, like Rick Hinkson, Zachary Stains, and myself, are products of the Pacific Northwest. (

10.) KT Sullivan, (a medley of 29 songs). I am going to quote my blog post for March 26 of last year: “KT Sullivan may very well be the last of the Great Dames of the New York stage (Lillian Russell, Anna Held, etc.). She is by far the sultriest. She has eyes that would force Hoffmann to write a whole new tale, a complexion to shame a porcelain doll, and what a voice. If Cleopatra could sing like this, Caesar would never have gone back to Rome. There should be baskets and baskets and baskets of Cartier, Van Cleef, and Tiffany trinkets waiting for her nightly at the stage door. She has a long list of CDs. Buy them all. Tonight’s medley is from “Rhyme, Women & Song” her upcoming engagement at the Algonquin’s Oak Room Supper Club May 3rd to 28th. She is accompanied by Jon Weber.

11.) Christopher Borg, Lane’s speech from Now She Dances! Borg’s subtle, quiet, understated, low-key performances explain a recent review that described him as “over the top and half way up the next mountain.” He is also one of my all-time favorite actors. If I were smart (and younger) I would write all my plays for him (and his lover Desmond Dutcher). Now She Dances! is by far my strangest play and perhaps my best. It began at the Cino as a one act and after almost 40 years of rewrites, the two act version opened in 2000 in Glasgow. (Steve Bottoms directed) It is a nightmarish metaphor for the trial of Oscar Wilde, blending characters from Wilde's Salome and The Importance of Being Earnest with a Post-Modernist America. Lane, the butler from Ernest, here acting as the major domo from Salome, reminisces on his childhood at “Palestine Walk,” Sir Herod’s stately home. (Now She Dances! is published by United Stages.)

12.) Joanne Beretta, “My Favorite Year” (Michele Brourman & Karen Gottlieb); “My Shining Hour” (Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer). In 1961 I walked into the Showplace in the Village. At the piano sat John Wallowitch playing “Mona Lisa” with an enigmatic smile on his face. They announced Joanne Beretta, she walked onto the stage and my heart never belonged to me again. For the longest time I never got much past her eyes. Watch out for them, they will take you to a world far far away and you will never come home. (I love you, Miss KK).

13.) Karen Stanion, the “Soup Speech” from Now She Dances! It is a wise playwright who casts Karen Stanion. You don’t really need even write the play because the moment Karen walks on stage, the audience more or less stops listening and just looks. Throughout the 1960s the “Soup Speech” was such a popular audition speech eventually casting notices asked actors to refrain from using it. In the play, Gladys, the maid, describes her career as a “theatrical domestic.”

I knew the late songwriter John Wallowitch since 1959. I first saw him sitting at a table with Marlon Brando in the legendary Baq Room of singer Janice Mars. In 2006, Mark Finley conceived a brilliant revue of John Wallowitch’s songs for TOSOS called New York Minutes. It was a huge hit, got rave reviews and John adored it. (Phil, it is ripe for revival.) Two of the original cast reprise songs they sang in the show.

14.) Robert Locke, “I See The World Through Your Eyes” (John Wallowitch) If I hadn’t gone to Billy Hoffman’s birthday party I would never have met the ever jouvenesent Robert Locke who would not have later introduced me to Mark Finley. The revival of TOSOS would never have happened. And I would not now be finishing a new play. And we would not be here tonight. So you can thank Robert for your being here. In fact you should have the waiter hand him your check. Thursday, April 7th, at 10:00-midnight the Robert Locke Trio will be performing at the Thalia Café, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street (

15.) Chris Weikel, “I Live Alone Again” (John Wallowitch). This is perhaps the song by John I love the most. (Remember my shredded heart?) Mr. Weikel is right next to Lanford Wilson (and Noel Coward) as my favorite playwright. He is also a great actor and singer and costume designer. Along with Jamie Heinlien, Robert Locke, and Karen Stanion, he is a founder of the revived TOSOS. (PS - I should have added G. B. Shaw to my list of playwrights.)

16.) Steve Ross (New York medley ) “Take Me Back to Manhattan;” “I Happen to Like New York” (Cole Porter, The New Yorkers, 1930)

17.) Special guest star Supreme Diva and Divine Sister Charles Busch introduces Doric Wilson with a brilliant take-off of the Judy Garland "You Made me Love You" fan letter to Clark Gable.

Doric Wilson jumps out of the window. As this is the basement, I don’t go far. Much like my uptown career. In 1961, Bernie Hart warned me not to get involved in Greenwich Village, he said I would never make it back uptown. I guess tonight doesn’t really count.

18.) Steve Ross and company, “This Moment” (John Wallowitch).

Tonight is dedicated to Jane Lowry who walked down the aisle between the tables as Eve and and made this all begin. And to Gary Filsinger who played the right-wing angel Disenchantralista, anticipating the Tea Party Movement by almost 50 years. (They are both in the background of the cover photo.) And to Janet McHugh who was sitting in the audience at the Caffe Cino in March 1961. And to Joe Regan who saw a performance even before the Cino when And He Made a Her played a block and a half from here at a gathering of a theater group called New Voices. (Paxton Whitehead came from the curtain of The Importance of Being Earnest to join us.)

Perhaps I can make it for another 50 years. We all went upstairs to the bar and tried to swipe money from the tip jar of TOSOS playwright member and West Bank Cafe bartender David Bell.

Like it says at the top, a great time was had by all.