Spotlight On: Doric Wilson
In 1961, Doric Wilson accompanied his friend, actress Regina Oliver to a place called the Caffe Cino, a small coffee shop on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village. Since 1958, a 10-by-10-foot stage at the Caffe had been made available for musicians, poets and performers. Wilson had come to humbly ask for time in the schedule to do a reading of his play And He Made a Her. The amiable proprietor, Joe Cino, smiled patiently and asked Wilson what his birth sign was. When he replied that he was a Pisces, Wilson was presented with a cappuccino and a performance date. “This became the standard operating procedure for having a play done at the Cino,” says Wilson. “You simply asked Joe for a date.” And thus began Wilson’s tenure at the Caffe Cino.
And He Made a Her opened at the Cino on March 18, 1961 and marked Wilson’s inaugural New York production. Fifty years later on March 16, 2011, friends and colleagues gathered at the Laurie Beechman theatre on 42nd Street to celebrate Off-Off-Broadway's original resident playwright. The evening consisted of a variety of performers including singers, cabaret performances, opera, and several scenes and monologues from Wilson's plays. In short it was an evening of Wilson's favorite things; friends from his early years in the city, performers whose work he has followed, and actors who have become regulars in the TOSOS cannon. Wilson said that he was honored by the performers who came to pay homage. “Not only because they are all extremely talented performers, but because they are all my friends – some of them almost forever. I am also proud that the actors and some of the singers come from TOSOS, my theater company.”
The caliber of the performances was simply outstanding, with each more impressive than the last. Michael Lynch got the audience in a funky and festive spirit with an original song “Havin’ a Party;” opera singer Zachary Stains performed “All the Things You Are;” KT Sullivan had the audience in awe with 29 from 29, a fast-paced medley of 29 songs from 1929; playwright Chris Weikel gave a moving and humorous rendition of John Wallowich’s song “I Live Alone Again;” and Joanne Beretta brought down the house with her beautiful performances. In a way it was like watching an old variety show. “If the evening seems to slip and slide on the edge of rampant nostalgia,” commented Wilson, “that's what happens when you celebrate a person who just turned 72 years of age.”
Each of the performers and audience members came to pay tribute to Wilson and the longevity and profundity of his career. Over the years Wilson has inspired thousands of artists. “I don't know if Doric set out to inspire several generations of playwrights,” notes fellow playwright Robert Patrick, “but that has been his role. It is largely due to his model that the custom of Off-Off Broadway became for plays to be independent, audacious, individual, and uncompromising -- four words that had rarely been applicable to plays before. Writers in many lands who did not know Doric existed or that he originated this stance took it as rote. His quiet revolution has been reverberatory.”
Wilson’s work, which includes 12 full-length plays, reveals tremendous insight and a tender sense of humor about the human condition. It is not surprising that his plays about the origins of the gay rights movement found its legs in OOB. Shared characteristics like the fact that both sectors work outside mainstream American and have struggled for legitimacy make OOB a perfect conduit for plays seeking to challenge the status quo. They also both share a tenacious “Do It Yourself” attitude, much like Wilson himself. It begs the question if Wilson and his colleagues didn’t imprint this personal characteristic on to the DNA of the OOB community.
When asked how the OOB scene has changed in the last fifty years Wilson says, “In the early 1990s, OOB seemed to have deteriorated to vanity productions and actor showcases. There seemed to be no hope. But even before I began to morn, there was a sudden and astonishing revitalization, and thanks to the high standard of actors, directors and playwrights, and institutions like the IT Awards, United Stages, and nytheater.com, OOB is now more important than ever.” He also acknowledges that there is something special about this community of artists. “To me the lack of big budget productions forces the artist involved to rely not on money but on their creative imagination. It becomes all about the actor and the script. It is also the intimacy which causes a special MAGIC TIME (as Joe Cino called it).”
Besides his continued efforts with TOSOS, Wilson is completing this play The Boy Next Door - his first new play since 2000; and a full-length version of Now She Dances will be produced in Glasgow this year.
Congratulations Doric and thank you for a wonderful evening and fifty years of great, touching and thought-provoking theatre. OOB owes you a Manhattan, strait up.
Check out the Doric Wilson Tribute Video.