I first encountered
Charles Marowitzs name back in the 1950s, when I picked up a British
theatre magazine called 'Encore' in a Greenwich Village bookstore. Charles,
who had emigrated to England after a childhood on New Yorks Lower
East Side, was a contributor to 'Encore,' a magazine whose irreverent,
anti-establishment voice greatly appealed to me.
My next connection to Charles, who died earlier this year in Los Angeles,
came in the early 1960s, when my wife Mavis and I were living on a Greek
island. In a British newspaper article I discovered that Charles was now
running a small theatre in London, the Open Space. On a subsequent trip
to London, we made our way there. I introduced myself and gave Charles
a copy of a short play of mine, 'Creatures of the Chase' (which later
became 'Junk Food.') Charles directed the play about a year later, a feat
that pleased me greatly, though I was later peeved to learn that he had
arbitrarily changed the plays ending.
For the next ten years or so we corresponded regularly and got together
whenever Mavis and I made it up to London. Always on those occasions we
made sure to attend a play at the Open Space, knowing we could count on
seeing something provocative, sharp-edged and challenging-- contemporary
theatre at its best.
Flash forward to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, when I was a member of
a playwriting group attached to the L.A. Theater Center. Upon learning
that Charles was now living in L.A. as well, I introduced him to the LATCs
co-artistic directors, Bill Bushnell and Diane White.
gave Charles a job and for the next five years he was a creative force
at the LATC: writing and directing plays, teaching acting, and editing
an in-house magazine which had many of the same ingredients once to be
found in 'Encore.'
Charles was insightful on just about every subject imaginable, and witty
as well. He was also always willing to read a new play of mine and offer
up critical advice. He also did his best to persuade LATC to mount one
of those plays, something they finally did with Junk Food.
Happily, Mavis and Charles second wife Jane became good friends
as well. At one time they even parlayed their mutual interest in food
and cooking, and started a catering business. It became quite successful
until a fateful afternoon on which, while driving downhill from Janes
Malibu home, she hit the newly adjusted brakes on her MG a little too
forcefully. The car bucked and splattered the dashboard with about a thousand
dollars worth of Indian curry!
It was something of an irony, by the way, that Charles should be married
to an accomplished chef like Jane, as his idea of a gourmet meal was a
Hebrew National hotdog smeared with sauerkraut and mustard.
Charles soon transitioned from the LATC to first-string theatre reviewer
at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. What a shame it was when that daily
paper went belly-up a few years later, because it deprived the L.A. theatre
community of a much-needed, bold and fearless voice. Here, for example,
is what Charles wrote in a piece called A Confederation of Dunces-
Theatre in L.A.
roots of the problem are, in equal part, economic and psychological. People
dont have enough money to do proper work because subsidy in Los
Angeles is monopolized by the Center Theatre Group whose noxious influence
has, after thirty years, become as petrified as the worst regimes of East
Europe before their recent overthrow. Unquestionably, a fairer distribution
of subsidy would, within as short a time as a year, ameliorate the situation,
but the Davidsonic Plague which makes Los Angeles the laughingstock of
serious theatre throughout America, will remain as long as the impoverished
rank-and-file accept this oligarchy and lack the courage to mount an effective
Needless to say, Gordon Davidson (artistic director of the CTG) not only
denounced what Charles had written, but ordered him removed from the CTGs
Had the Herald-Examiner survived as a newspaper and kept Charles on, I
think his influence on American theatre would have rivaled that of Kenneth
Tynan on British theatre in the 1960s and 70s.
Charles next challenge was making a success of a new 99-seat theatre
called the Malibu Playhouse, where he set out to repeat what he had done
at the Open Space. Although I dont own a crystal ball, I knew from
the start that he would fail in that regard. The Open Space was a state-subsidized
theatre; Charles did not have to chase after money to keep it afloat.
Nor did he have to cope with a board of directors or play local political
not the case in Malibu. Charles was simply not built to deal with those
realities; he was too headstrong and undiplomatic, too gnarly. But during
his brief reign in Malibu, he did manage to mount several excellent plays,
including two works of his own. It must be remembered that Charles was
not only a director and critic but a playwright as well. He wrote at least
two dozen plays, one of which, Sherlocks Last Case,
made it to Broadway.
In trying to sum up the life and legacy of my late friend Charles Marowitz,
it is appropriate to quote something he himself wrote on the death of
Kenneth Tynan: The inveterate and ubiquitous enemy against whom
every theatre artist has to struggle is that well-scrubbed, immaculately
dressed upper middle-class ghoul who is secretly betrothed to the twin
monsters of Good Taste and Inoffensiveness. This ghoul, well-educated
and highly articulate, can be found on the well-upholstered committees
or theatre-boards, local councils, civic groups, government bodies anywhere
and everywhere that public money, private investment, or corporate grants
are dispursed to the arts. He has the sensitive complexion of the helpless
vampire, the Living Undead, and can unhesitatingly advance a dozen impressive
arguments why one should: not take the risk...deter
decisions to another day...establish a fact-finding committee
to study the matter...avoid the risk of giving offence...not
make an exception for fear of setting a precedent...and a thousand
and one rationalizations which bust the kneecaps of progress, strangulate
creativity, and dampen down those whose divine sparks which, if ignited,
would radically alter sensibility and institute change.
Tynans life--let us substitute Charles name here--was a continual
battle against such ghouls. Although one of our staunchest warriors has
fallen, the battle still goes on.