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Futz and Who Do You Want, Peire Vidal?

1986, Broadway Play Publishing

In 1958, I wrote my first play, Futz. I had been working as a clerk in the accounting department at Sotheby-Parke Bernet Galleries. Among the customers were Greta Garbo, Ali Khan, and Katherine Hepburn. The early drafts of the play were typed on lot statements and sheets torn from the daily calendar. Between sales, during the slow periods, I would write, secretly, my play. In the evenings at home I'd eagerly work for hours, transcending everyday reality with the surprises, discovery, and fulfillment of artistic creativity. Because of the success of The String Game and Istanboul, later plays of mine (Istanboul had garnered a Village Voice Obie), I acquired an agent, and in 1965 Futz was produced as a work-in-progress under the auspices of the Office of Advanced Drama Research at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre and the University of Minnesota. Two years earlier, the Living Theatre had planned it for production. The project was cancelled because of tax difficulties the company encountered.

In 1967 Futz was produced by Ellen Stewart at the LaMama Experimental Theatre Club. It won the three top Village Voice Obie Awards: Best Play, Best Direction, and Best Actor. It became an international success and the hit of the famed Edinburgh festival. During its long New York run, a performance was cancelled when Robert Kennedy was assassinated.

The London Observer described Futz as "The most exciting American theatre since Miller, Williams, and Albee," and Edith Oliver of The New Yorker called it "a witty, harsh, farcical, and touching dramatic poem about the love—romantic, domestic and sexual—of a farmer for his pig, a love that demoralizes his amoral, brainless neighbors, driving them, variously, to lunacy, incest and murder." In 1969 the film version premiered in New York City. The film was faithful to the text of the play and I wrote some additional dialogue; as always, Tom O'Horgan, the director, and I worked well together.

In 1978 I met Richard Caron, the French director who had premiered Futz at the Festival d'Avignon. During that time I had been impressed with his directorial concept and was interested in his translating a new play of mine into French and staging it at his cafe-theatre in Paris. During my visit I saw a rehearsal of my play Who do You Want, Peire Vidal? and admired the actors and the translation very much. In 1982 the play premiered in New York City at the Theatre for the New City. Anarchistic in form and tone, its dramatic scenes interspersed with music, monologues, and pantomime, the play represents two characters in a continuing state of colliding frames of mind. The Village Voice described Who Do You Want, Peire Vidal? as "explosions of parody, eroticism, and violence, emotions of the id and the intellect ... extremely engaging, surprising ... marvelous extravagance of language."

Recently, after having viewed the film Futz based on my play, and after re-reading the text of the play, I became strongly aware of the proto-feminist nature of the work. During the panel discussion held after a screening at the University of Oklahoma in April 1984, some of the audience remarked that the cruel truths of the women's lives were fixed in an extraordinary way; feminist criticism would add a new dimension to the complexities of my dramatic literature.

I am interested in what has previously been ignored or neglected in my plays except by one writer, Joan Goulianos, in the Village Voice of February 4, 1971, in an interview called "Getting Rid of Thou Shalt Not." Even the more efficient and astute critics have been perhaps more narrow or rigid than they ever suspected when it came to the revelation of a world of outraged and angry female protagonists who fill the landscapes of some of my plays. A feminist perspective would enrich the aesthetic and multifaceted interpretations that have been given to my work.

Still, the points of origin lie deep within one, and the finished work outlasts without denying the array of perspectives it evokes.

"I have an image of you in my mind, poking like a finger under my eyelids. You're standing next to a vase filled with wildflowers. My ego is growing claws that are ready to tear off a piece of whatever I can get them into. There is no pattern to my life that you can understand. I have a hunch, you'll find yourself basking in the sun with me one of these days—but the odds are against it. You'll most likely die in a mental institution at a ripe old age. What do you think of when you look at the old photographs of us together? Do you feel as though you walked away from a head-on collision? I talk to you—you refuse to understand. I loved the way you moved your body and not once have I pitched woo with anybody but you, dear." Rochelle Owens' Chucky's Hunch.

The above quote is one of my official manifestos, a theory of my approach to writing. It is my savage muse talking to me.