I think of these three linked plays as my invisible masterpieces. They owe their existence, and I owe much else, to my uncle Alfred Brooks and Maxine Munt and The Changing Scene, their theatre in Denver.
Click on titles for texts of the plays.
In the summer of 1971 I spent some weeks deep in the woods on my friend Jean-Claude van Itallie’s expansive farm in the northern Berkshires, where he had given me a site for a house of my own. I was too broke to proceed with building the house, but I fixed up my woodshed as a comfortable cabin in the meantime. It was idyllic, but I needed to do something, and I was glad when Al Brooks invited me to come do another play at The Changing Scene. I sat down and wrote a one-act play about an American family who lose a son in Vietnam. Jean-Claude gave me a new one-act of his, “Eat Cake,” to do with it. I drove my VW out to Colorado accompanied by Alan Marlowe, who was just back from six months meditating at a monastery in the Himalayas.
“Peas” is a veritable compendium of experimental feints and initiatives, ideas concentrated out of a phenomenal amount of theatre-going in the previous dozen years. I was getting tired now of running around to theatres and writing reviews, but I had looked deeply into the question of theatre in the present time, and enjoyed making these proposals.
I met my future wife, Michele Hawley, while I was directing “Peas” and “Eat Cake” and wound up staying on for a couple of months, also staging Bill Hoffman’s wonderful “XXXXX.” I entertained the fantasy of renting a house with Michele and her sister Tina, who played music for “Peas,” and staying in Denver. But it was clear The Changing Scene could not support me, and I went back to New York to do another new play, “Country Music”, at Theatre Genesis, and back to The Voice.
Another invitation to The Changing Scene, another play written in the woods at Charlemont, where my heavenly hideaway was now complete. I was in a positive state of mind after visiting Sam Shepard and family in Nova Scotia, where Sam had turned me on to Gurdjieff. I was ready to make big changes in my life.
I had loved the actors in “Peas” in Denver two years before so when I started a new play for The Changing Scene, I picked up the same characters hoping to have the same actors play them. The Vietnam War was thankfully over. I was still thinking about Michele; though we had not communicated in nearly two years, the real-life question of whether I should pair up with her (if she was free and interested) and take her back to New York with me became the issue of “Double Solitaire.”
I wrote one act and it was time to go west; I would make up a second act with the actors, and see how the life drama came out. I liked the doubleness of the structure, that it was not all me. As it turned out, most of the same actors were available, plus some excellent new ones. The collective creation of the second act was nerve-wracking but successful. Most of it was never written down, and it survives in fragmentary form, asking to be invented anew.
Michele did come back to New York with me. We lived in Park Slope and she played the tamboura in “Prussian Suite” at Theatre Genesis. In the spring we decided to marry and have a child. The wedding was in June at her parents’ house in Denver. I lined up a production at The Changing Scene just before it and wrote “A Wedding Party” for the occasion.