Click above to preview

Available from Amazon

The Karl Marx Play and Others

1974, E. P. Dutton & Co.


Did you know that in a medical sex book written in the twenties a chapter was entitled "Are Women Fully Human"? Printed somewhere, ah yes, somewhere in America. And in the 1950s Wilhelm Reich's books were burned in Massachusetts. Time scuttles on.

I have been writing plays and poetry for about twenty years. My work testifies to my ligaments and spirit. I write so that God will not hate you. Recently a young woman editor asked me if I would compose an article for her feminist journal. "Something for women," she said. I blinked, "What on earth do women want?" "You ought to know." And I do, I do.

During my embryonic period as a writer it was a man who nurtured me emotionally and artistically. And when I waxed strong as a breathing and fiery poet the man called me a Frankenstein monster, and he said that I should stop being a poet and become a woman, and an office worker, and support him while he ekked and yukked out "The Novel" and painted a picture. All this happened in the fifties. While Elvis was singing "Heartbreak Hotel."

There are some who swear that women are crueler to each other. Maybe yes. Maybe no. Men are more courteous. They sometimes wear a distinguished everlastingly sane veneer like Eric Sevareid. But I have seen the human scratch and waltz and I am interested in his convictions and betrayals. And I am interested in hers. They move me.

Sixteen years ago when I submitted a book of poems to a publisher, a long, scrawling, enthusiastic, and encouraging note from the editor came back. He praised my writing energy, saying that I didn't write like a woman or a fag but like a "Real Man" because my writing style had "testicles." He said that he just could not believe I was a woman. He did not address me in the letter as, "Dear Miss Owens"; instead he wrote, "Dear Do You Exist?" And eleven years later a well known news periodical reviewed a play of mine and identified me as "a housewife who writes plays." Think of calling Arthur Miller a breadwinner who writes plays! Today women artists are patronized more subtly and deviously by men, and of course each other. The ax is blunted but the cries of outrage are still very loud. I knew a woman writer who said that many years before she had yearned to look like Orson Welles or Samuel Beckett. For the respect. She wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. But she also knew that if she had looked like Beckett or Orson her husband probably would not have loved her. This woman's despair coiled around her for five years. And fifteen years later her third suicide attempt was successful.

Some women become agitated and horrified by the suggestion that because they are women they have perhaps freer and more spontaneous sensibilities. They are repulsed by ancient cultural classifications of the female. And like an hysterical man at a horse race or political convention they will not listen for another distant drum.

Generalizations are convenient interludes. At their best, they intensify human experience; at their worst, they dilute and render experience invisible. Life interpretations of human beings by other human beings are always cultural and directed to the point of one's own inclusive existence and comprehension of reality. It is inevitably mythic. A mysterious intense sun. It heats us. We cannot fail to breathe and exhale.

When I was a small child I dreamed of a proud half human female with the head of a bird. The fabulous creature fed her young with chunks of her own flesh, which she would tear out with her beak. Always the flesh grew quickly back so that there was no loss or end of herself. Sometimes I wonder about that dream and its truth.

Tell me why Ham was cursed by God when he gazed upon his father Noah's nakedness? No explanation that I have yet heard answers my question. Was Genghis Khan a pragmatist? Are the cruel heads of states in my world pragmatists? And what about your world? What do you think that the theater should do for you? Entertain, humiliate, astound, teach, preach, exult, exalt, giggle, enrage, enlighten, mystify, educate, make ha ha, prayer, elevate, stupefy, titillate; be wholesome amusement, sexy theology, aesthetic, intellectual, hypocritical, sissyish; demand commitment? How do you define commitment? It's the ambiguous eleventh commandment.

The virtue that I love best about myself is writing about your visceral anguish and perhaps to hang a plaque in city hall describing the excommunication rite that was "played" around an angry and luckless philosopher. Theater for me is true flesh changed into belief and eaten with bread by the Grand Inquisitor. The power of prophets is not their logic—it is their passionate innocence, like the maniac's. Authentic theater is always oscillating between joyousness and fiendishness. Do not allow yourself to be shoved out by the facile and hypocritical doctrinaires squatting beside you like the nasty spider in Father Goose. Do not let mush heads fold up your universe for you. A good idea and things around it are not urgent enough for me to commence to write a play. A list of rules and definitions, ad vomitum, on how to swagger will not make an over-nourished articulate "revolutionary" who makes a good living writing books into a woman or man who will encounter death to ease the soul's tension.

Again I say, I write so that God will not hate you. For the sake of my spirit, for the sake of my continuing to write for the theater, I and every other maker of shapes and forms must put away from view the pompous funnymen who bloodlessly categorize what they deem to be the good and relevant. Everything /dog/blood vessel/everywhere/O sighing ruin/ Is relevant. Let the word relevant take a long snooze! Let the very busy technomystics with cruel fascistic inclinations—let them take long snoozes. Let them wake up with no urge to harangue anymore. Let take long snoozes those also who would, like menacing half-human gadgets with shoes, affix us to a wall and make us bow to their useless rules when they pull the chain.

Theater is a life-sustaining force. We playwrights who depart from the notion that theater is entertainment know that in our time, in America, there is a division coming more and more to exist between two different kinds of theater experience. We share psychic roots with the Asian and European and the African awareness of the mysteriousness of symbols and non-naturalism. We are not spiritually or biologically concerned with the craft of commercial "entertainment" that is defined by the profit-making musical-comedy hit. We are extremists and attempt both in our lives and in our art to explore aesthetic possibilities and to become more open to the profound, endless dimensions of creating art. As playwrights who have transcended the useless traditional and in many ways deceitful disguises artists are molded to wear, we are thoroughly prepared to be totally receptive to the powers of source energy, imagination, and inspiration. We know we are in a territory totally unexplored: the conscious creation of self and art through the vista of humanity. We wish to sustain the fact and conviction of ourselves as playwrights who know that theater is a life-sustaining force and we know also that the public wishes to be summoned from its sleep.