Dr. Myers Inquires: “Who Inspires?” (Revolution Cabaret Needs New Works)

Playwright Larry Kramer of the production 'The Normal Heart' in his apartment in Manhattan, New York on April 22, 2012. (Photo by Melanie Burford For The Washington Post via Getty Images.)

DR. MYERS INQUIRES by Larry Myers — Revolution Cabaret’s essence has now materialized at The World AIDS Museum & Educational Center in Wilton Manors, Florida.  Activist Larry Kramer (PICTURED ABOVE) headlines a 3-day event —March 9, 10, and 11 — honoring the rise of the activist group ACT UP, an acronym for AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power.   “Disease, Art, Human Resilience” is the theme of the presentations.  After writing the screenplay for Lost Horizon (the 1973 musical version), he traveled to Germany’s Dachau. This galvanized his outrage about AIDS. Kramer founded the in-your-face, confrontational ACT UP, as well as writing The Normal Heart, The Destiny of Me and Just Say No.  These works illustrate the real exceptionalism of emotional extravagance and the authentic engines of mobilized popular movements addressing the exploited and oppressed. They proved that, by shared faith and action, injustice can be opposed. Cabaret and theater must be rebel acts to prove solidarity and show that human connectedness is a living force. Outrage— layered with generosity and love — can occur in entertaining, open-ended dialogue in a neo-cabaret format.

I  participated in some Florida sessions, discussing four  San Francisco summer AIDS-awareness playwriting labs. Additionally, I had written the second play to deal with AIDS, Thighs Like Tina Turner. This was produced at Theater for the New City, as was the first AIDS play, Stephen Holt’s Fever of Unknown Origin. These predated Kramer’s works. Edward Albee had endorsed my workshops.

In the  wake of threats to LGBTQIA rights, playwrights should galvanize to create new modalities of theater arts. As early as 1973, I was a member of Ron Vawter and Steve Borst’s The Shaman Company, which had grown out of Richard Schechner’s Performance Group. The mission of the company, which performed on Wooster Street, was investigation of “same” identities. The paradigm of this work was reinforced with my work with Jerzy Grotowski and The Living Theater in Pittsburgh.  Julian Beck’s troupe had an economically feasible site-specific methodology. This found theater should be ignited via found revolutionary cabaret—- a cabaret in nontraditional venues.

I attended the 50th anniversary of the first gay rights march on Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Contrasted to Kramer’s  rambunctiousness was a recreation with men in suits and ties with women in dresses and high heels silently carrying signs in a circle. This was a contained, genteel approach to the gay oppression at the time —which involved shock treatment, castration, sterilization, incarceration and frequent losses of jobs and homes. Among those attending was one of the original Harvard PhDs.

My continuation of this freedom theme led to the play Charles Demuth Coloring Book.  One hundred years ago, visual artist Demuth began modern progressive playwriting with Eugene O’Neill on a Provincetown wharf. Moving from  veranda readings to the shack on the water, they performed plays about working class issues. Works responded to World War I angst & to elitist show business. Charles Demuth was a Marcel Proust-esque  aesthete, a disabled, homebound shut-in who lived in enmeshment with his strict Lancaster, Pennsylvania mother. His forays to Paris, Ptown and New York informed raconteur  sensibilities. His consciousness was an unapologetic homosexuality, comfortable within his literati and intelligentsia circles. O’Neill said, “I have known many men like Charles –and they must be written about.” His key character, Charles Marsden, in the five-hour long play Strange Interlude was based on Demuth. This psychoanalytically-informed piece was so popular that it played simultaneously in two Broadway theaters. The published script remained for a long time on the best-seller lists. Initially a playwright, Demuth painted mystical watercolors, local landscapes informed by Egyptology and risqué homoerotic nudes. He made creative disaster from his long sufferings. I wrote this play as therapy, after four hospital stays for heart issues. Rhys Tivey (grandson of Dame Elizabeth Taylor) was approached about doing a reading to benefit The AIDS Museum. Museum Director Ed Sparan’s Epiphany Theatre will preview various plays of mine, including horizon hiccups/hemisphere hemorrhage.  It will also be produced at Ghost Winds Cafe in San Francisco, as well as Ronnie Norpel’s Tract187 Culture Clash and at Murmuring Indians Gazebo Theatre in East Quogue, NY (on actual Indian burial ground).  It responds to both the Pope’s book on climate change and The Standing Rock Protest of the North Dakota pipeline project. This “water protector” notion touches on the survival of all of us — and Mother Earth. My Shopping & Fracking (done at Theater for the New City in downtown Manhattan) started me on my research. In Arizona I studied Native American lore, but also became aware of the local hyper-bigotry and prejudice. I purchased a Canada Goose Arctic coat to travel to North Dakota as that crisis seemed a microcosm of many.

Tennessee Williams had once advised me “to write a play —- close your eyes and see the symbols.” He added, “The theme of my Streetcar Named Desire was ‘Watch out —or the apes will take over’; the theme of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is: the apes have taken over.”  Both ecological fear and persecution of Native Americans drove me on. Then Obama stopped the controversial pipeline. Now it’s been resumed I’ve been involved in various environmental and human rights protests in San Francisco– the epicenter of crusades. Gore Vidal advised me, “Pick a city and do your plays” My Keith Haring’s My idol was a San Francisco Critics Circle Best Play nominee and my Sal Mineo Fan Club Comes to Order won the first U.S. Fringe Festival in San Francisco, moving from the Exit to Act Theater several decades ago.

The political ideas of democracy (as far as our Founding Fathers were concerned) were rooted in a spiritual tradition arising from prophetic Messianism, the gospels, and enlightened 18th century philosophers. Their one hope was man liberated from poverty, ignorance, and injustice.  They envisioned a society of peace and unity. Theater explores man’s spiritual idealism. In our post-cyber dehumanized zeitgeist, Reality TV and a Conservative charades have threatened us with apple pie fascism. Alternative news,  erratic tweets, and the pornography of poison political memes must be counteracted by a new stage poetry. A new inclusive,  inquisitive. bohemian counterculture can both entertain, distract, enlighten and reassure with a reverence for life. Now is the time for an iconoclastic, innovative, imaginative revolution cabaret. The recent Stonewall and immigration marches might be processed into works —reflections and distillations of our observations of an accelerated, ever-changing world.