The following piece is a slightly edited excerpt from one of the dozen new essays written by Robert Heide and included in his new book, Robert Heide 25 Plays.
In November 1976, the Theater for the New City announced “A Unique and Amazing Two-Week Festival – Village Writers on the Village – to commemorate the 200th year of the founding of the United States of America in 1776.” With grants from the Ford Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts, Crystal Field and George Bartenieff commissioned playwrights including: Rosalyn Drexler, H. M. Koutoukas, Sally Ordway, Arthur Sainer, Harvey Fierstein, Ronald Tavel, Maria Irene Fornés, Joel Oppenheimer, Muriel Rukeyser, Harvey Tavel, Helen Duberstein, Victor Lipton, and myself to write plays with a specific connection to the history of Greenwich Village, to be performed at the Theater for the New City’s venue in the Jane Hotel.
All of this inspired me to write American Hamburger, wherein a conservative history teacher by day would at night head down to ‘the trucks’ dressed in black leather, jeans, and boots to act out his fantasies. In the play, he leaves the notorious Keller’s Bar and heads across the street to the trucks and onto a pier where, following a sexual encounter, he is thrown into the river. The character in my play, whom I called ‘A Village Tourist,’ is in another world and in another time zone. He finds himself in Washington Square Park in a state of panic and bewilderment with George Washington, who led regimental troops in the square, and the poet Maxwell Bodenheim, who wrote My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village. After recounting his night on the prowl and drinking in Village bars, A Village Tourist comes to realize that he is now, like the gentlemen he has just met, a dead man who must join the other ghosts that are said to haunt and roam the Village to this day. After complaining of being hungry, the three ghosts head over to the Village McDonald’s on 3rd Street, ostensibly for a burger. Before leaving the Square, Washington asks, “Is he a general, this McDonald?” and later, somewhat astonished, rephrases the question with “…so it’s all hamburger then?”