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Marshall W Mason Interview - PART IV

Erma: Edward Albee wasn't a part of the Cino?

Marshall: Albee came.

Erma: He came. He wasn't produced there.

Marshall: No, no, he wasn't produced there. He had Broadway plays, they were on a different level. They were very successful commercially and artistically worldwide.

Erma: But he came to the Cino?.

Marshall: He came there to see the plays and he was a great supporter of young playwrights. So he decided to start showcasing the best of the plays that they found, off Broadway. The first one was called "Theater 65". It was done at the Cherry Lane theater. It featured the three leading playwrights of that time, Paul Foster's play "Balls", Sam Shepard's play "Up to Thursday" and Lanford Wilson's "Home Free".

In the meantime, I had done "Balm in Gilead" very successfully at La Mama, I'm understating this to say "somewhat successful".

It wasn't so much the reviews, as it was really a phenomenon. Anyway, I had directed the play and people hadn't seen anything like it, frankly ever. Certainly not in a long time had they seen an ensemble work like we did in "Balm in Gilead". Lanford was himself enormously impressed with it. He was the first one who ever grabbed me by the arm and said, "We got to keep these people together and create a theater because they are all so good and your work with them is so phenomenal." I said, "Oh no, I'm too young to do something like that." Around this time, Joe Chaikin had formed a theater called "the Open Theater". So he was experimenting with John Claude Van Itallie, and they were having considerable success and attention. In the background of all this was the Living Theater...

Erma: Judith Malina and her husband, Julian Bond.

Marshall: They had of course preceded the Cino. They were earlier, earlier, experimental, but they weren't really Off-off broadway. I don’t know what they were. I went to see their work,, as did Lanford, as did everybody at the Cino. Their work was different than any of the rest of us were doing. It was more related probably to the kind of theatre that John Claude Van Italie, and Joe Chaikin did.

So we did the three plays off Broadway as Lanford's professional debut. As I said, he had had this remarkable experience of doing "Balm in Gilead" with me so he asked me to do "Home Free" in its professional debut at Cherry Lane. So I was very eager to un-do what I thought Bill Archibald had done to the play. I restored kind of all the magic that had been in the original production, directed by Neil Flanagan.

Neil, by the way, was not in the running for directing "Home Free" which he had done first because he was directing the premiere of "Ludlow Fair". So Lanford had written "Ludlow Fair" after "Balm in Gilead", and it was going to be his new play. So he had Neil do it at the Cino. That was simultaneously with his debut off-Broadway, his professional debut.

So I got the assignment to do that. The reviews were terrific.

Meanwhile, the Cino continued on producing amazing work. By then, Neil had become really almost an institution, in and of himself. His "Madness of Lady Bright" ultimately played over 250 performances. So I mean when I say, we only played a week at a time, that was in the early days. Eventually there started to be longer runs at Cino. Eventually, of course, we accommodated Bernadette Peters starring in "Dames at Sea", which ran even longer than "The Madness of Lady Bright."

Erma: Dames was produced where?

Marshall: "Dames at Sea" was at the Cino. Bernadette Peters debuted in it.

Tim: Wow.

Marshall: When these long runs began to take over, we all sort of stopped dropping by the Cino quite so frequently because now we knew what was on. In the early days, you came every week all the time, because you didn't know what was going to be next. But whatever it was it was going to be exciting and wonderful to see, and experimental and ground breaking and what have you. Always a thrill, even if it was a classic like a revival of "The Chairs" by Ionesco or "The Stranger" by Camus or a new play be Lanford Wilson. Or a new play by Sam Shepherd. It was always popping at the Cino.

Then these longer runs sort of changed that. The Cino became a victim of its own success in a way. I think a variety of things helped that. One was that it began to get reviews in the Village Voice. So people uptown began coming to it, as the thing to do. La Mama was enormously successful and La Mama's success reflected on the Cino as well. Her success spilled over, as it were, into especially the artistic crowd uptown who wanted to see the latest, hottest thing. Like the Andy Warhol phenomenon. One such person was Fred Eberstadt, a society photographer who was married to Ogden Nash's daughter. We're talking a very wealthy man who loved slumming, as it were, with the downtown crowd. So Fred Eberstadt took the original pictures of "Balm in Gilead" was very supportive of us. We were the scruffy people that he took to the ...

Erma: Uptown group.

Marshall: The uptown, yeah, the Mayflower club or whatever the ... the Knickerbocker club. He had a lot of fun discovering us, as it were.

So during this period of time we had a fire. In the early days you weren't sure how you were going to pay the rent. I certainly had not paid my telephone bill. Suddenly my phone rang, which is a very strange thing because I knew it was disconnected.

So I answered the phone and an operator said, "Your theater is burning down." That could only mean the Cino. Somebody, Johnny Dodd, I suppose, had called the phone company and said, "You've got to call Marshall Mason." So I was integrated into the Cino to the degree that soon as the theater was on fire, I was the one they called. I'm sure they called Neil too, but I was certainly one of the first ones they called.

So we ran there, and it was a smoldering mess. Talking about Edward Albee and how much he was supportive of the Cino, he sponsored a benefit in which he was the host.

Everybody did a lot of scenes from all the different playwrights, all to raise money. As I said, Edward was the host. I remember him walking down the aisles and turning to the audience saying, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I'm Edward Albee." I thought, "How amazing that he thinks he has to introduce himself. We all know who you are, Edward." Believe me this is no secret. I thought it was very humbling of him to say, "This is who I am and I'm here to support the Cino." We raised a lot of money. It was enough for Joe to re-build the Caffé.

There was a bakery, adjacent to the Cino that was vacant at the time, and I really wanted Joe to think about ...maybe he should break through the wall and enlarge the Cino, double the size of it. Then we could have more artistic opportunity. He didn't want to do that at all. He wanted to go back to exactly the way the Caffé was.

So he re-built it exactly as it was, as much as possible. It was very little difference. The old Cino was probably a little scrounchier [sic], the new one maybe a little cleaner. But basically, we went back to the same Christmas lights and montages on the wall and the Cino went on.

Erma: This was 19 ... I need to look it up.

Tim: The fire was in 1964. Also, my notes have 1966, “The Love Pickle"?

Marshall: Yeah "The Love Pickle" was David Starkweather whom we haven't mentioned. David Starkweather was one of the young playwrights that was very successful at Cino’s. We did a play called, "Who's afraid of Edward Albee?" "You May Go Home Again", and "The Love Pickle" is the one I directed which involved a man and a woman out on their first date and they had gone to a restaurant that was so popular that they were seated in the men's room. Which really is a funny play. David, of course, later became very important in Circle Red because he wrote the first play that we did at Circle Rep.

So he was one of the many other playwrights. I'm sure we're leaving out some ... Ron Link and oh Tom Eyen, my God, I haven't even mentioned Tom Eyen. Tom was of course very successful at Cino with plays like, "Why Hanna's Skirt Won't Stay Down" and ... a whole bunch of them, but Tom Eyen was very successful and he later became famous for having written "Dream Girls".

Up next PART V

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