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Marshall W Mason Interview - PART V

Erma: So what's most important, what was interesting for me, not knowing this and having read other things, I didn't realize how inviting Joe Cino was because to an artist, once you find a home ...

Marshall: Exactly. And an inspiration. He was our muse. What can I tell you? The man was just magical. When I say "Santa Claus" if you have any feeling for Christmas, as I do ...

Erma: I do.

Marshall: You know what I'm talking about when there's only one Santa Claus and he is the granddaddy of them all. He loves everybody and he's good to everybody and that's what Joe Cino was. He was just good to everybody.

Erma: You worked there last in 64, yes?

Marshall: No, I think I did something after Joe Cino committed suicide. Which was a horrible tragedy and I can tell you the lights went out in all of our eyes at that point. All the young artists that he had created. It was just inconceivable that we could go on without Joe. I was in rehearsal to bring back an all-star production of "The Clown". Neil was doing a revival of "The Madness of Lady Bright" at the same time. Joe wanted us to bring back "The Clown" because it had been John Torrey’s favorite play that had ever been done at the Cino. John Torrey, Joe’s lover, had died in a tragic accident over the summer, he was electrocuted, while doing summer stock.

Erma: Is that what happened?

Marshall: Yeah, summer stock…So Joe wanted to bring back "The Clown" because it was John's favorite play. He thought it would be wonderful to do as a memorial to him on April, I think it was 2nd, I believe. Which was John's birthday.

So we were in rehearsal to bring back "The Clown". I got an all-star cast, Lanford Wilson played the prince, and Robert Patrick played the philosopher. I played the manager of the theaters. David Starkweather played the manager of the circus, I think. Claris repeated as the headsman. Ron Link was in it also. We were in rehearsal and the news came that Joe had tried to kill himself. We all ran to St. Vincent's and were there, keeping vigil all night. We just couldn't believe that this had happened. The doctors were very reassuring, "He's going to be all right, and he’s going to be all right." Then suddenly they came out and said, "He's dead." It was a terrible reversal. But it was really tragic for all of us, I can tell you that.

Erma: What did you do then?

Marshall: Well here we were with the production that we were about to do and as I said the only reason Neil wasn't in it was because he was doing "Lady Bright". Otherwise he would've done "The Clown" as well. Because it was an all-star cast. Michael Warren Powell did the costumes. Oh Michael was in it. He did the costumes, the most spectacular costumes ever done on off-off Broadway, I'm sure. They were really spectacular.

Erma: Had Michael continued to work at the Cino?

Marshall: Oh yes. He did "So Long at the Fair", "Home Free". He was in the "Madness of Lady Bright". He was in both productions of "Home Free". Then he did "This is the Rill Speaking". And other things too. I'm trying to think. I don't think I directed him in anything at the Cino. We did "Home Free" off Broadway.

So we decided we can't abandon this, Joe wanted us to do it. So instead of this being a memorial just for John Torrey, we'll now do it as a memorial for both John and Joe. So that's what we did, we continued rehearsal and I think we delayed a week, opened a week after the Caffé had re-opened.

Subsequently we had a great artist there named Charles Stanley who did amazing work.He was very tall about 6'4" or so 4" or 5", very tall, very skinny, and emaciated almost, with enormous eyes and a beard. He loved to do crazy things. I haven't mentioned Harry Koutoukas, my God, and Harry Koutoukas who was one of the primary writers at the Cino. He wrote a lot of wonderful bizarre things, like "Turtles Don’t Dream," and oh God I can't remember the titles of any of his plays. He had a whole bunch of them. They were absurdist, really wonderful absurdist stuff. I loved Harry's writing, everybody did. It was just a unique vision, to say the least. I'm not sure any of it meant anything, but it was so much fun to watch.

Charles Stanley was one of his primary actors and subsequently when I went abroad to do "Home Free" and "Lady Bright" in London I took Charles Stanley as "Lady Bright" rather than Neil. Neil was continuing to work professionally so I don't know that he was available. I cast Charles as Lady Bright and he received great notices in London. "The finest performance to be seen in London," said The New Statesman.

It was on a double bill with "Home Free" with Claris playing Joanna and Michael Warren Powell repeating as Lawrence, so we had a great success with that in London.

Meanwhile, after Joe's suicide, there was many meetings to determine what should happen to the Caffé.... Ellen was willing to take it over but this is where the Cino-ites were, "No, we're not going to allow you to have La Mama II, or turn the Cino into La Mama, that's not what Joe would've wanted".

So instead, Charles Stanley assumed the role of producing director as it were. He continued to keep the doors open for quite some time. Then eventually he just couldn't deal with it because there were so many regulations. The fire department coming in and wanting bribes. All of which, Joe, being a Sicilian, knew how to deal with. He had no problem, he knew how to grease the slope as it were to make it happen. Anybody else had trouble understanding the rules and regulations and how to get around them.

Charles kept it running for a while, and eventually the stress of it all just became too much for him. He then turned it over to Michael Smith who had been the critic at the Voice and was a great devotee of the Cino by now. Michael kept it open with somebody's help. He was a businessman of some kind who worked with Michael Smith to keep it open They kept it open for another, I don't know, six months or so. Then eventually it just seemed obvious... Nobody but Joe could really run the place the way he had, so eventually the Cino closed its doors.

Erma: Of course you know there is great interest, now, in Caffe Cino. Daniel Talbot, David Crespy, and many others have great interest in whose shoulders we all stand upon.

Marshall: Robert Patrick has become, along with Magie Dominic, the chief archivists for the Cino. Magie has curated exhibitions at Lincoln Center

She remains a wonderful, wonderful person and was very much around in the early, early days.

Erma: Was she an actor?

Marshall: Yes.

Erma: Question, no female writers (other than Claris), no female directors at that time?

Marshall: No, I don't know what really Maggie's category was. Oh there were… let me think if I can come up with their names. Oh Roxanne Drexler, Megan Terry, people from La Mama. I don't know whether they did work at the Cino or not.

In addition to Maggie hanging around, I think Maggie was an actress, I believe. She is now a writer and a poet, continues to write and publish books. So she's had a very successful career as a writer. At that time, I think she was mainly acting. There was a woman who read tarot cards named Esther, who hung out at the Cino all the time.

There was a very beautiful woman named Hope Stansbury, who had been a model of Salvador Dali. She was there all the time. She is now, I'm still a friend of hers on Facebook. I don't know I guess Hope acted. She must have. I just remember her as a person, as a personality. Helen Hanft, most famous, Helen Hanft was the star of many of Tom Eyen's productions. There were of course other actresses, Jenny Ventres.

Erma: Oh yeah. They didn't really have... female directors, did they?

Marshall: I don't remember off-off Broadway really having any female directors, I don't remember any. There were actors and actresses and there were playwrights.

Erma: Writers yes.

Marshall: I don't remember any directors. Rochelle Owens, again, a writer.

Erma: So if there is ... besides the magic that lured you to creating the magic you created your entire career and continue to create through those you've influenced, is there any one thing besides hooking up with Lanford, for the incredible body of work the two of you created together, is there anything else from that time that has stayed with you to this time?

Marshall: Yes, as I said before, and you were asking what I meant when I said, that I walked through the looking glass and life was never the same, it was life changing. I was having all kinds of questions about my sexuality. I didn't know what was going on with me. I was attracted to women, I had a girlfriend that I later lived with and we had a common law marriage as it were, Zita. She was an actress at the Cino. Was in a lot of Bob Patrick's plays. She did the first nude play, I think. Bob had her wrapped in plastic.

Anyway, it was life changing, in the sense that Joe was the one who could see the torture in my life of trying to ... I was in therapy trying to go straight as it were. Joe was the one who was able to say, "You know you're a man, Marshall. Don't worry about it, don't worry about it. It doesn't matter who you sleep with, you are a wonderful man and that's what you've got to keep in mind." Just seeing somebody like Johnny Dodd who was so easy with himself and so beautiful and so graceful and so much fun and sly. He was just again a magical person, Johnny Dodd, just indescribably wonderful, loved Callas so much, bless his heart, he left me all of Callas's pirated operas when he died. Still got them all.

Marshall: Really, really "The Lisbon Traviata", I mean all this kind of stuff. That you can't get anywhere. I got a whole bunch of them, ephemeral. That's a good word, ephemeral. He was the first one who ever gave me a joint. I smoked marijuana for the first time with Johnny Dodd. I was terrified. I immediately thought I'm hooked, I'm hooked.

So I ran to the library the next day and looked up marijuana and discovered that it was not addictive. I only knew about marijuana from what's the movie?

Danny: Reefer madness.

Tim: Reefer madness.

Marshall: Reefer madness.

Erma: Reefer madness.

Marshall: I believed that. I thought Reefer Madness was telling the truth.

So Johnny was the one who broke all that apart for me. Subsequently years later, not all that many years, but subsequently I then went into other psychedelic drugs like LSD, mescaline and mushrooms and all that stuff. All of which was fairly common currency, I think, at the Cino. People were tripping on a regular basis.

You know that whole life of trying to break through to a new level of understanding of evolution of the human spirit was what really a lot of us were looking for, in terms of the psychedelic adventures. The Cino was a hotbed of experimentation of that sort. You can be what you want to be, you can be more than what you are. There's no limit to what you can be. It was Joe who lifted that ceiling, as it were, for everybody. Drugs were certainly a part of it. While we were gone, by that I mean after Cino started having long runs like "Dames at Sea" and it was the same play week after week after week and uptown was coming downtown and enjoying the shows, a lot of us stopped hanging around on a regular basis. During that time, the Cino underwent some changes.

Now Robert Patrick was there throughout most of it. He probably, better than anybody, knows how the Cino had changed. A lot of it had to do with the Warhol crowd coming in. While we were gone, the Warhol crowd had come in. Andy Warhol's whole factory and you know some of them were on heroin. Some of them were on speed. They were on different kinds of drugs besides the hallucinogenic ones. Of course I sort of, myself, I've never done any of those drugs, so I don't know what authority I have to say that I think they're not as good as hallucinogenic drugs. Hallucinogenic drugs are about opening up and understanding more. Heroin, seems to me, to be about turning down and turning inward and knowing less about yourself because it's all too much. So I think there's some truth to that.

Some blame the Warhol crowd for bringing in the bad drugs, as it were. Whether Joe Cino was under the influence of anything like that when he killed himself I don't know. I don't think you have to see that, in order to understand, to comprehend that his suicide could've happened without them. It could've happened as a result of LSD. He could've been really stoned out of his mind on LSD because the way he killed himself he was listening to Callas. It was a madness that took him over and LSD does that to you. It takes you to a kind of madness, from which you learn all kinds of things and presumably you come back from it.

Erma: I have been enlightened by our conversation today. I guess I don't know how to say this because you've taught me so much through the years. I feel so privileged to have had the afternoon with you, Danny, and Tim.

Marshall: The Cino is irreplaceable. There's never been anything like it before or since. It inspired the whole off-off Broadway movement which now is of course everywhere and has become a phenomenon.

Where would theater be without off-off Broadway? We wouldn't have things like "Urinetown" or, for that matter, "Hamilton".

It was a door through which, not only I walked, but a lot of other people did too. The people who followed us subsequently, like you, Erma and Tim, you are the beneficiary of the gift that was Joe Cino, a door that he opened a long, long time ago.

Erma: Like the ripples from the proverbial stone in the pond, the legacy of Joe Cino – pushes out and we as theatre artists, we whom he has never met, never dreamed of our existence, continue to be affected by what he encouraged in that small Village coffee house all those years ago. Thank you, Joe Cino!! Thank you, Marshall W Mason!!!

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