This summer I had a conversation with Mark Simon who played the role of Benway in the theater production of Naked Lunch. I had no idea there was a theater performance of Burroughs' classic novel. Shows you what I know. The play was performed in the mid-1970s and in a few instances Burroughs took part. Talking to Mark was fascinating stuff and the Naked Lunch stuff proved to be the least of it. It was really interested in the underground theater, about which I knew precious little. Thankfully he gave me a short reading list about Off-Off Broadway and queer theater. I am reading Stephen J. Bottoms' Playing Underground: A Critical History of the 1960s Off-Off Broadway Movement right now. I am more than halfway through, so I think it is safe to recommend at this point.
A few posts ago I wrote about how underground film went hand in hand with the Mimeo Revolution. The same can be said about Off-Off Broadway. Of course all these scenes overlapped. In the case of underground theater, the American Theatre for Poets and the Judson Poets Theatre make this clear. As does a mimeo mag like Floating Bear. I always think of Kulchur as the go-to place for criticism relating to the 60s underground but Bottoms' book reminds me that Floating Bear was first and foremost not a straightforward poetry mag but a community newsletter so naturally it reports on what was going on around it in the arts in all forms and formats. And for Leroi Jones and Diane Di Prima one aspect of this is the Off-Off Broadway scene. Di Prima's memoir Recollections of My Life as a Woman is a valuable primary source on underground theater in the 1960s. Bottoms had me reaching for my copies of Floating Bear early on in his book when he quoted a theater review of Gertrude Stein's "What Happened" performed at the Judson. I was surprised to see that Alan Marlowe, Di Prima's husband through much of the 60s, wrote a review and I wanted to read it. Turns out the review Bottoms quotes was actually by Michael Rumaker, not Marlowe. Marlowe contributed little more than a blurb on the Judson twinbill, which is below. Rumaker goes into more detail on the following page. Hopefully if I can get my act together, the full Rumaker review will follow along with other reports on the underground theater, dance and art scene from the pages of Floating Bear. The Marlowe is just an appetizer. You have to leave the audience wanting more.
What Happened. A Play in Five Acts by Gertrude Stein
Presented by the Judson Poets Theatre
Directed by Larry Kornfeld
“What Happened was what happened to Gertrude Stein’s lovely sonorous sentences with a charming piano score by Al Carmines. There was singing sung by the cast of light, and dance movement and games by the Waring girls. Everyone had a good time and produced a delightful theatre piece.
“Asphodel, In Hell’s Despite” by John Wieners which accompanied the Stein was a piece of John Wieners’ very special reality. The production by Jerry Benjamin did little to benefit the piece, but Wieners’ words are always a delight to hear.
The Church is again fostering The Arts. The Judson Dance Theatre which in its series of programs had introduced many new dance works and performers, the Judson Poets’ Theatre, a group sculpture and painting show in the Parrish House and gardens of beautiful St. Mark’s on the Bouerie, and its summer series of poetry readings and music concerts have brightened up the scene considerably.