Friday, March 18, 2011

A Tribute to Doric Wilson


Contributed by guest blogger of the week, Kathleen Warnock.

The first time I met Doric Wilson was on the internet: on the gaytheatre Yahoo group, when someone addressed him as “Dude” (as part of a completely wrongheaded opinion.) Rather than address the guy’s wrongheadeditude, I simply replied: “Dude?”

Doric liked my pithy timing, and we began a correspondence, during which I invited him to read a scene from “Street Theater” at my reading series, Drunken! Careening! Writers! Then Doric invited me to submit something to his theater company, TOSOS, and thus began an education, in the history and present of American theater (gay department), the gay liberation movement, a bit of leather legend, and a tutorial in the perfection of a Manhattan up, with a twist.

So the title of last Wednesday’s tribute to Doric, “Proud to Know You,” perfectly describes my feelings about the man.

The Laurie Beechman Theater was packed with tables full of friends, memories, and a city’s worth of knowledge, nostalgia and talent.

Rick Hinkson (who helms the Billy Blackwell/John Wallowich Musical Theater Project for TOSOS) produced (and emceed), Mark Finley (TOSOS Artistic Director) directed, Jen Russo (best stage manager in the world) was at the board, and cabaret legend Steve Ross provided the musical direction. 

Our souvenir program included tributes to Doric from colleagues and admirers throughout his 50 year career. Edward Albee offered: “Doric has always told it as it is. He has never believed in playing it safe and the word ‘sugar-coating’ is not in his vocabulary either.” And Craig Lucas added: “Wilson has devoted his life to the once-radical notion that gay lives deserved true representation.” And on and on…(I hope we can get the complete text of all the encomiums on the TOSOS website!)

Doric provided program notes that waxed enthusiastic about each performer, and we nudged each other with delight as each one came onto a hot stage and made it hotter.

The program began with Rick introducing the video that was made for Doric’s Artistic Achievement Award from the New York Innovative Theater Awards. It was followed by another video message from Doric’s fellow Cino playwright Robert Patrick, who spoke and sang about his colleague as only someone who has known him for 50 years could.

Then the playwright’s words took to the stage in the form of a monologue from his first play (produced at the Caffe Cino in 1961), And He Made a Her, performed by Jamie Heinlein, who played the role of Eve in the recent TOSOS revival of the play.

Michael Lynch, whose “Livin’ on the Real” was recently seen at Dixon Place, and has been developed by TOSOS over the last few seasons, came next with Janis Ian’s “Having a Party” (or rather, his version of it). Lynch, who IS Boom Boom in Doric’s seminal (ha!) Stonewall play, “Street Theatre” was joined by his longtime collaborator Steve Kaufman (whom the audience exhorted to “Make it funky, Steve!”)

Singer/songwriter Morry Campbell followed (wearing black leather, of course), with his ballad “On My Own,” from his album (yes, I still call them albums!) long way home. It introduced the theme of the evening of a man alone…and still making his way through the world.

Aaron Tone and J. Stephen Brantley then played a scene from A Perfect Relationship and while serving the work beautifully, were also hotly gorgeous themselves. While I am a lesbian, I am not blind.

Steve Ross then took to the piano, and gave us “Here’s to Us” (by Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh), the first standard of the night, and one that defined the word (“standard,” as in the kind of song that others strive to match).

Lodi Carr, accompanied by Jon Weber, tumbled onto the stage, and continued to up the stakes with a beautiful version of “For All We Know” (no, not the one the Carpenters sang, but the one written by J. Fred Coots & Sam M. Lewis in the 1930s). And in case you think I am that knowledgeable, I am totally cribbing from the program.

Big opera met pop standard with Zachary Stains, singing “All the Things You Are,” (Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II), which contains the lovely couplet:

You are the breathless hush of evening/that trembles on the brink of a lovely song

Then came Alex Bond, writer, actress, leather bar chanteuse, doing a monologue of Muriel’s from A Perfect Relationship, playing a frazzled New York City real estate broker, and the distaff side of the evening continued with Wagnerian soprano Susan Marie Pierson blowing out the back will with the strength and beauty of “Dich teure Halle” from “Tannhäuser.”

Then more cabaret royalty hit the stage in the form of KT Sullivan, accompanied by Jon Weber, singing a medley of 29 (yes, 29) songs in a gorgeous plaid skirt (she explained she’d just been having drinks with Malachy McCourt!) The assemblage, style and delivery of the mélange made you understand why Doric says: “KT Sullivan may very well be the last of the Great Dames of the New York stage.”

(And I nudged Shay Gines, who was sitting next to me and said: Who the hell follows THAT? And she said: Chris Borg. And I said, well, then he can handle it.)

Borgi (to his friends) then knocked Lane’s speech from Now She Dances! out of the park. The play is described by Doric as “by far my strangest play and perhaps one of my best.”

Joanne Beretta was the next of the cabaret royalty (cabalry?) to arrive…She bean with “My Favorite Year” (Michele Brourman & Karen Gottleib), which brought the room to the most attentive silence you’ve ever heard, then followed with with “My Shining Hour” (Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer), which brought the room to its feet. With Beretta, who’s been mesmerizing New York City audiences since the late ‘50s, it was goosebump time, and remembering why you moved to New York City in the first place.

…and then Doric’s own words took the stage in the form of Karen Stanion, with another monologue from Now She Dances that left the room laughing enough to cry.

John Wallowitch was one of the ghosts dancing about the room; as one of the great songwriter/cabaret performers of the second half of the 20th century, he lives on in his songs, and first Robert Locke summoned him with “I See The World Through Your Eyes” (and through the crash of a pan of dropped dishes…something Robert told me comes with the territory when you’re a jazz singer). Then Chris Weikel, better known as a playwright these days (though he’s got quite a resume onstage and as a singer), sang the jaunty, beautiful “I Live Alone Again,” And Steve Ross capped the moment beautifully with some Cole Porter: “Take Me Back to Manhattan” and “I Happen to Like New York,” something to which all the folk in the room could agree.

The Divine Sister herself, Charles Busch, doffed her habit and raced uptown in time for the 11 o’clock(ish) number, his own unique version of “Dear Mr. Gable/You Made Me Love You,” that included some very Doric-specific references.

Then Doric took to the stage for a few remarks, in which he thanked by name many of the people who have been most important to him on his journey through some of our most historic times (some of which he helped push into being), and then everyone came up onstage and Steve Ross brought the evening home with “This Moment” by (of course) John Wallowich. We got lyric sheets in our programs, and I murmured along with the crowd, and then we all went upstairs…Doric urged us to steal the tips from West Bank bartender (and TOSOS playwright) David Bell, but instead, we kept Doric company with another Manhattan or three, and little by little, the company departed, hailing cabs off 42nd Street to our beds in the boroughs or blocks away, ready to sleep the sleep of the just (or tipsy) with songs on our lips, and ideas for the next play…the next lyric…the next cabaret…

Doric, of course, closed the place down (or so I heard).

Also see our Spotlight On: Doric Wilson.


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