Sunday, July 14, 2002


For some reason I am thinking today about the remarkable Ron Vawter, who you might have seen, if you lived in New York City, in one of his many performances at the Wooster Group, an avant-garde theatre that is also the artistic home of Willem Dafoe. If you didn't, you might have seen him as the probing shrink in "sex lies and videotape" or in "Philadelphia" (he played a sympathetic straight lawyer) or in "Silence of the Lambs" (the unsympathetic agent who hijacks Hannibal Lecter from poor old Jodie and Scott Glenn. Vawter died of AIDS, suffering a heart attack in midair. He was fearless on stage, a fierce small coil of a man who carried with him a whiff of his former lives as a soldier and a chaplain. I am thinking of him and Charles Ludlam, a genuis performer/writer who also died of AIDS, and how much we need these sharp strange voices especially now---to make us question and make us laugh.

This is the ongoing pall of AIDS in the American arts. Nothing like the devastation in Africa, where one child in five has lost a parent to AIDS. Nothing like the poor communities in this country. But how do you "hear" the silence created by the absence of these and other artists? Ludlam, who did brilliant, lascivious, blenderized versions of classics, including CAMILLE, BLUEBEARD, and THERESE RAQUIN, would be an eminence grise right now, grandfather to a million and a half little theatre groups. Vawter, I am sure, would have turned more and more to writing and directing. The last thing I saw him perform was a genius double portrait of Jack Smith, a surreally genial performance artist, and Roy Cohn, closeted gay Commie hater. Mr. Very Out and Mr. In: a wonderful contrast and compare, self hate vs. self love, both colored with delusion. Younger queer and queer-identified artists have taken up the banner, but what seems lost, as always, is our sense of history. Without history, the things we make end up feeling shiny and thin.


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