Theater colleagues, longtime friends, and protégés of pioneering gay playwright and activist Doric Wilson (February 24, 1939 to May 7, 2011)—author of “The West Street Gang,” “A Perfect Relationship,” “Forever After,” and “Street Theater;” leatherman; and veteran of Gay Activists Alliance in the early 1970s—gathered at the Lucille Lortel Theater, on Christopher Street on October 10, to share reminiscences in a celebration of Doric’s life, filled with frequent laughter and tears alike.
The memorial began with the playing of a recording of the aria “Vissi d’arte,” from Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” which Doric’s colleague Mark Finley, from the theater company TOSOS (the Other Side of Silence), said, in opening remarks, was Doric’s favorite aria and totally appropriate, because he lived for his art. Finley later read a message from Edward Albee, saying that “Doric’s contribution was accomplished with great skill and audacity.” Kathleen Warnock of TOSOS’ Chesley-Chambers Project, a series of gay and lesbian play readings, said that Doric once threw a drink at Lucille Lortel, for making what he felt was a racist remark on stage, and claimed, “And that is why I’m not on the walk of fame” in front of her theater. TOSOS playwright, actor and director Chris Weikel read a message from playwright Victor Bumbalo.
William M. Hoffman (“As Is,” “Ghosts of Versailles” libretto) began, “I met Doric Wilson 1964-ish: it was always a bone of contention when we met and if we did it,” adding, “He was so hot!” Hoffman continued, “These were the times of the Caffe Cino,” considered the birthplace of gay and alternative, Off-Off Broadway theater, and he reeled off the names of others of their colleagues, including Lanford Wilson and H.M. Katoukas. He shared a remembrance of one of Doric’s birthday parties: “He had more fun at his own party than anybody—except maybe me.”
Robert Heide offered, “I knew Doric very well from the early days of the Caffe Cino … He was incredibly handsome and he stopped traffic, with the red hair.” Heide thought of Wilson as a Noel Coward type, while others identified him with Oscar Wilde. Recalling Wilson in black leather, Heide said, “He had gone from Noel Coward to Jean Genêt!” He also noted that it was Albee who was responsible for getting Wilson’s obituary into the New York Times. “I think of us all as products of the ’60s,” Heide said.
Jean-Claude Van Itallie (“The Tibetan Book of the Dead”) met Wilson at a party in 1963 for a replacement cast for Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” including Elaine Stritch. “I think of Doric standing on the ramparts, on the frontier,” as a playwright and in the Gay Movement, he said, an image he felt particularly relevant “in this time of Occupy Wall Street.”
In a video message, Robert Patrick (“Kennedy’s Children,” “T-Shirts”) spoke of Wilson at the Cino, Circle Rep, the Stonewall riots, and TOSOS, and said that Wilson was not really aware of him until TOSOS produced his play “The Haunted Host,” which he said, “Doric missed at the Cino 11 years earlier!”
Near the end of his life, Doric had been working on a play called “The Boy Next Door,” and we were treated to two witty scenes from this work, one with Rick Hinkson and Jim Nugent playing an actor and a playwright, respectively, and another, with Eileeen T’Kaye playing a very grand and ornery actress.
Charles Busch (“The Lady in Question”) said, “The first time I saw Doric Wilson was on Christopher Street—he was all in leather—and I think he had a boy on a chain,” and Busch mused on “the playwright as top man” and “the dark myth.” Busch also commented on “this extraordinary sweetness” of Wilson’s and his “enthusiasm for other people’s work.”
David Drake (“The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me”) made his New York debut as the new boy in town, Tim, in “Street Theater,” and got his Equity card for his appearance in Busch’s “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.” Drake was a teenager when he first met Wilson, in Baltimore for a community theater production of “A Perfect Relationship,” and got the message, “Our stories must be told. Our voices must be heard. That is the Other Side of Silence.”
Wilson encouraged young playwrights, including Donnetta Lavinia Grays (“The B Factor”), who said that, after their discussion of Queer Theater, Doric always addressed her as Mister or Sir, “and that’s fine.” Grays quoted Wilson as saying, after TOSOS presented her play as part of the Chesley-Chambers Project, “You are a playwright. You are officially a playwright. Your play is good and important” and told her to stop excusing and apologizing for it. Joshua Conkel noted that Wilson, “a notorious Manhattanite,” had come all the way to Queens to see his play and that a production of his work was being rehearsed at TOSOS, when word came that Wilson had died. Daniel Talbott also spoke of Wilson’s encouragement of his work.
Mary Louise Mooney was proud to announce that “the Mary Louise Mooney bric-a-brac collection” appeared onstage in a production of “A Perfect Relationship” and received program credit. Wilson would introduce her, she said, as “the company drag queen.”
Handsome J. Stephen Brantley said, “Doric Wilson pinched my tits so hard, they hurt for a week. That was in March—I still feel his presence.” Doric, who had presented his plays at the Mineshaft, the Spike, and the Eagle, had said to him that it was “not possible to produce theater in leather bars anymore,” that “people had become too dull and too greedy for anything interesting to happen.” Brantley further declared, “Doric Wilson is the only man for whom I’ve worn my keys on the right—so, in tribute to the Master, thank you, Sir!”
Weikel presented his short play “Joshua in the Afterlife,” in which an ordained minister, a Fred Phelps type, goes from carrying a “No Fags in Heaven” sign at a funeral, to being greeted in the next world by Boom Boom and Ceil, the outrageous drag queens from “Street Theater,” wearing white wings and halos. Chris Andersson, Desmond Dutcher, and Michael Lynch were the actors.
David Carter, author of the book, “Stonewall: The Riots That Started the Gay Revolution,” the basis for Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s film “Stonewall Uprising,” in which Wilson was featured, spoke of how the arts influenced the Stonewall Rebellion and said that the arts are, similarly, involved in Occupy Wall Street now. Carter particularly cited the Living Theater’s presence at both times.
TOSOS’ Barry Childs, in closing remarks, quoted Wilson saying, “wouldn’t you know that this organ I’ve been accused of not having”—i.e. a heart—“would give me so much goddamned trouble!” and begged to differ, commenting on the bigness of Wilson’s heart. Childs also introduced the final slideshow of images of Wilson, compiled by Morry Campbell.