By Robert Heide
For 10 years now, I have been writing articles and theater reviews (possibly as many as several dozen) for Westview News on everything from Broadway musicals like Follies (starring Bernadette Peters) and Sunset Boulevard (starring Glenn Close) to the plays of Edward Albee, Terrence McNally, and Horton Foote. (Coincidental Note: Bernadette first appeared in Dames at Sea at the Caffe Cino in 1966 and is now replacing Bette Midler in Hello Dolly.) Bette also began her career Off Off Broadway at about the same time (at Café LaMama) in Tom Eyen’s Miss Nefertiti Regrets.
My own playwriting career emerged out of these two theaters and others like the Cherry Lane Theater on Commerce Street. Previous plays of mine like Moon, The Bed, and At War With the Mongols were published in play-collection volumes like The Best of Off Off Broadway (E. P. Dutton), edited by Michael Smith; New American Plays (Hill & Wang), edited by William M. Hoffman; The Off Off Broadway Book (Bobbs-Merrill), edited by Albert Poland and Bruce Mailman; and Return to the Caffe Cino (Moving Finger Press), edited by George Birimisa and Steve Susoyev.
So now, God help me, the 25 plays I have written from 1961 to the present are documented and published together in a 406-page book which includes over 40 pages of new writings (notes) as well as 50 original theatrical production photographs, flyers, and other ephemera. The publisher and book editor is my lifetime friend and theater cohort Michael Smith. Michael was for many years the chief theater critic for the Village Voice, following in the footsteps of Jerry Tallmer who first had the job. Michael is also a playwright in his own right and ran the Caffe Cino for a time after the death of Joe Cino.
As I wrote in a past Westview article which focused on the importance of the Caffe Cino in terms of theatrical history, it was Joe who inspired writers such as Sam Shepard and Lanford Wilson, both of whom won Pulitzer Prizes for their plays; Tom Eyen who later wrote the musical Dreamgirls; David Starkweather who wrote Who’s Afraid of Edward Albee?; Jean Claude van Itallie, author of War and America Hurrah; Robert Patrick, author of Kennedy’s Children; John Guare, author of Six Degrees of Separation; Jeff Weiss who wrote A Funny Walk Home; Doric Wilson, author of Now She Dances; H. M. Koutoukas who wrote With Creatures Make My Way and now has a bronze plaque at 87 Christopher Street where he lived for 50 years; Diana di Prima; and so many others. Diana, a poet who was part of the original beat generation group, wrote the last play performed at the Caffe Cino before it closed down in 1968; it was about the dancer Freddie Hercko and was called Monuments.
Sadly, in the last few months, the passing of David Starkweather; William M. Hoffman, author of As Is; and Sam Shepard have left many of us feeling bereft. Both Doric Wilson and Lanford Wilson, as well as Tom Eyen and H. M. Koutoukas are gone, as is Edward Albee who I looked to for years as my mentor. Edward, always there, was also a mentor to many other young writers as well as those who were members, including myself, of the famous Albee-Barr-Wilder Playwrights Workshop on Van Dam Street. Alas, so much of it now seems to have disappeared as far as Greenwich Village cultural life is concerned.
The first play I wrote in 1961 was Hector, which was produced at the Cherry Lane Theater and was directed by Nick Cernavitch. It starred Jean Bruno on a bill with short plays by Jean Cocteau and the poet Kenneth Koch. Hector was later produced by Lee Paton, along with my second play West of the Moon. More recently, in 2006, Hector was revived by the Peculiar Works Project at the Gershwin Hotel, starring Gillian Goll. On stage, Hector is an oversized plaster amusement park dog being talked to by a Professor Kraus who is modeled after my theater teacher at Northwestern University. When I read in Confidential Magazine that Marlon Brando lived at 124 Waverly Place with Wally Cox while studying with Stella Adler, that is what I decided to do after college. It was at Stella Adler’s theater studio uptown on the West Side that I first met another acting student—Michael Smith, publisher of Fast Books Press and the 25 Plays compilation.
Included in this collection is the screenplay for Andy Warhol’s Lupe (starring the stunning Edie Sedgwick) and as noted on the cover of the book, the Caffe Cino classics The Bed and Moon. As of now, Andy Warhol’s split-screen filmed version of The Bed is being restored to digital perfection by a three-museum triumvirate (the Whitney Museum, the MoMA, and The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh). Some of the other play titles include Why Tuesday Never Has a Blue Monday; Increased Occupancy; At War With the Mongols, which starred Village actors Linda Eskenas and John Gilman (John collaborated with me and helped edit this book); and a trilogy of plays—Suburban Tremens, Tropical Fever in Key West, and Crisis of Identity— which all starred the Obie Award-winning actress Regina David.
To receive your copy of the book Robert Heide 25 Plays (ISBN: 978-0-9982793-0-5), send $30 plus $5 shipping to: Fast Books Press, P.O. Box 1268, Silverton, Oregon 97381, or just search for “Robert Heide 25 Plays” on Amazon.com.