By John Gilman
On Saturday June 16 LaMaMa E.T.C. celebrated the life and career of the late Tom O’Horgan at the Ellen Stewart Theatre at 66 East 4th Street. O’Horgan was famous for his direction of Hair on Broadway as well as Jesus Christ Superstar and Lenny. The acclaimed musical Hair had a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni with music provided by Galt McDermott. Jesus Christ Superstar had music by Andrew Lloyd Weber. This Coffeehouse Chronicles #148 was curated by Michal Gamily. As well as honoring Mr. O’Horgan, the place was abuzz with a kind of frenzied joy as LaMaMa had just won a Regional Theatre Tony Award. The coveted award was accepted at Radio City Music Hall by LaMaMa’s Artistic Director Mia Yoo.
The ‘Coffeehouse’ event was hosted by Suki Weston and began with a testimonial talk given by the playwright Paul Foster. Foster, one of the original founders of LaMaMa in 1961 who also functioned there in its beginnings as President, with the astounding Ellen Stewart being the proprietor of the theatre. Supporting players in those formative years included Jim Moor and Dr. Paul Kranfeld as well as Jules and Ann Weiss. Paul Foster, the writer of Tom Paine which ran for years off Broadway also wrote Elizabeth I for Broadway. At the Caffe Cino Off Off Broadway I was first captivated by his wildly experimental play Balls.
In Part I of the evening we got to see and hear three members of the original LaMaMa Troupe that performed all over Europe including the Scandinavian countries. Tom O’Horgan was on board for these successful and influential LaMaMa tours. On this night the actresses Mari-Claire Charba, Jacque Lynn Colton and Marilyn Joan Roberts gave a stupendous reading of Pulitzer Prize winner Lanford Wilson’s early work This is the Rill Speaking. Excerpts from the 1969 film version of Rochelle Owens’ Futz—the play was first performed by the Troupe and directed by O’Horgan at LaMaMa—in which Sally Kirkland (later nominated for an Academy Award for Anna) rides bareback and in the nude on a huge for-real pig. Boxiganga, another filmed excerpt of the La MaMa Troupe’s European tour was shown. Live performances included a reading by Marilyn Roberts of Leonard Melfi’s Times Square originally directed by Tom O’Horgan and a tribute to O’Horgan by Beth Porter read by Mari-Claire Charba.
Long ago, Playwright Robert Heide and I used to go to Tom O’s wild parties at his gigantic 13th Street loft, with music, loads of food and drink, and many wonderful celebrities. Once met Susan Strasberg and listened to her tale of Marilyn Monroe who was always borrowing her cashmere sweaters and returning them stretched out of shape and unwashed. Part II began with a panel composed of Jim Rado, Marc Cohen, O’Horgan’s long-time companion, Futz producer Albert Poland and others and reminiscences of their personal and creative experiences with the famed director by members of various productions of Hair. This was all followed by live performances by James Rado and the Hair tribe including Marjorie Lipari, Antwayn Hopper, A.D. Andy Coughlan and others singing Hippie Life, The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In) and This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius as well as highlights from Superstar including Heaven on Their Minds—performed by Jared Weiss as Judas, What’s the Buzz and Strange Things Mystifying. This Coffeehouse Chronicles, which began in 2005 as a free educational performance series founded by Chris Kapp exploring the history and development of Off-Off Broadway, will be a hard one to surpass for its sheer entertainment value. Many, many thanks to the staff and crew of LaMaMa for this ongoing contribution to Village lore.