A Tribute to Doric Wilson
On Monday, October 10, 2011, friends and
colleagues gathered at the Lucille Lortel Theater to celebrate the life
playwright, producer and gay activist Doric Wilson.
Wilson was instrumental in the creation of what we now refer to as the Off-Off-Broadway movement, as well as the early gay rights movement. His earliest plays And He Made a Her, Pretty People, Babel Babel little Tower and Now She Dances were some of the first productions ever performed at the legendary Caffe Cino. Many of Wilsonís close friends and colleagues from his days at the Cino shared their personal memories of Doric including playwrights William Hoffman, Robert Heide, and Jean-Claude van Itallie. All remarked not only on Wilsonís enormous talent but on his devastating personal charisma, and on what a toweringly attractive figure the six-foot tall, red-haired Wilson was in his youth. Playwright Robert Patrick offered a moving portrait of Wilson via video from the west coast, and Wilsonís longtime friend Rick Hinkson read a message from director, Marshall Mason, who was unable to attend.
A participant in all three days of the 1969 Stonewall riots, Wilson co-founded, in 1974 (with Billy Blackwell, Peter del Valle and John McSpadden), the first professional theater company in New York City dedicated to dealing openly and honestly with the gay experience, The Other Side of Silence, otherwise known as TOSOS. It was during his association with TOSOS that Wilsonís most familiar plays were written including: Street Theater, The West Street Gang, Forever After and A Perfect Relationship. It was the Doric Wilson who penned these works who inspired playwrights and performers Charles Busch and David Drake who both offered personal remembrances of the imposing, exciting and impish Wilson they first encountered as a member of New Yorkís gay artistic community of the 1970ís and 1980ís. Drake commented that meeting the leather-clad, sexy Wilson for the first time shattered his preconceived stereotypes of what a gay man could be. Current members of TOSOS, Artistic Director Mark Finley, Administrative Director Barry Childs, and Director of the TOSOS Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwrights Project organized Wilsonís memorial, and Finley read a note written by Edward Albee for the occasion, a tribute to Wilsonís uncompromising artistic vision. Warnock read the tribute she wrote for the IT Awards website.
Doric Wilsonís work is performed perennially, not only by companies throughout the US, but performed widely throughout the world. From New Orleans to New Delhi, from Glasgow to the Lower East Side audiences have delighted in Wilson's language and will continue to do so for years to come. A recent production of his A Perfect Relationship in India has helped pave the way for the de-criminalization of homosexuality in that country.
In 1994 Wilson was the first recipient of Robert Chesley Award for Lifetime Achievement in Gay and Lesbian Playwriting and was the 2007 recipient of the New York Innovative Theater Foundation's Artistic Achievement Award, just two of the many accolades he received in recent years. At the news of his passing, the Dublin International Gay Theater Festival has renamed their international co-operation award the Doric Wilson Award.
Doric's greatest achievement, and his most lasting legacy, however, was his dedicated nurturing of young writers. Some of those writers whose work has been developed by TOSOS were among the most moving speakers of the evening. Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Joshua Conkel, Daniel Talbott, and J. Stephen Brantley related their first meetings with Doric. The then established fixture of the off-off community would latch onto a neophyte artist, present him or her with a DVD of the TOSOS revival of Street Theater and then offer his ardent assurances that he or she was indeed a playwright with a unique and important voice. The four spoke movingly and eloquently about how important Wilsonís unconditional support of their work was to their development as writers, Brantley who has also performed Wilsonís work, added that ďDoric Wilson is the only man for whom Iíve worn my keys on the right.Ē
The evening included brief readings from Doricís plays. I was honored that the evening concluded with a performance of my short play, Joshua in the Afterlife, inspired by characters from Street Theater, performed spectacularly by TOSOS members Chris Andersson, Michael Lynch, and Desmond Dutcher.
Following the memorial, close friends retired to the mid-town restaurant Zuni, Wilsonís favorite watering hole, which he had dubbed ďThe Sardiís of off-off Broadway.Ē We raised a Manhattan (Doricís favorite cocktail in recent years) and toasted our dear friend who had a lifelong appreciation for people who ďdo theater for all the right reasons.Ē