Saturday, 24 May 2014

Charles Marowitz

Theatre director, playwright, critic
Born January 26 1934; died May 2 2014

Charles Marowitz, who has died aged 80 after struggling with
Parkinson's Disease, was a theatrical iconoclast of the 1960s
counter-cultural avant-garde, whose uncompromising attitude left its
mark bluntly and without sentiment. This was the case whether causing
trouble in Edinburgh and Glasgow at the Traverse and Citizens Theatres,
working closely with Peter Brook at the Royal Shakespeare Company prior
to an Antonin Artaud-inspired Theatre of Cruelty season, deconstructing
Shakespeare in London at the radical but glamorous Open Space theatre
he co-founded with producer Thelma Holt, or advocating his same
wilfully singular artistic vision in Los Angeles during his later
years. New York born Marowitz alienated many, and not for nothing was
his score-settling autobiography, published in 1990, called Burnt

The youngest of three children born to Polish Jewish immigrants who
worked in the clothing industry, Marowitz staged his first production,
of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, aged fourteen, and by
seventeen had founded his own theatre company and was writing reviews
for the Village Voice. After doing army service in Korea in France,
Marowitz moved to London, where he enrolled at the London Academy of
Music, Art and Drama. By 1958, Marowitz had staged a London production
of Gogol's play, Marriage, and in 1962 worked on the RSC's revival of
King Lear by Peter Brook, who he became assistant director to for the
next three years, working with him on Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade and Jean
Genet's The Screens.

It was in Edinburgh in 1962 where his reputation as an enfant terrible
was cemented, however, when he took part in publisher John Calder's
International Drama Conference in 1963 at the McEwan Hall. In what is
regarded by many to have been the first Happening on UK soil, Marowitz,
in cahoots with fellow travellers that included artist Mark Boyle, Ken
Dewey, Allan Kaprow and Hollywood actress Carroll Baker, cut through a
week of dry pontification with a pseudo-speech that gave
way to a cacophonous melee involving a taped collage of preceding
events,  bagpipe music and a brief appearance of nude model Anna
Kesselaar whose tabloid-friendly presence gave the event its notoriety,
even as it woke it up from its torpor.

Marowitz went on to become a key figure in the early days of the
Traverse Theatre alongside another American, Jim Haynes. Marowitz would
go on to direct at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre, set up by Haynes and
others with the intention of being a London version of the Traverse.
While Marowitz directed commercially successful productions of Joe
Orton's Loot, Sam Shepard's The Tooth of Crime and other plays here, it
was his own Open Space, started in a basement off Tottenham Court Road,
that captured its underground spirit.

Marowitz returned to controversy in 1965, when the first night of his
scheduled production of Doctor Faustus at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre's
experimental studio base, the Close Theatre, was cancelled at the last
minute. Marowitz had his Mephistopheles sport masks for each of the
seven deadly sins, with a mask of the Queen used for Sloth being deemed
in bad taste by the Citizens board, whose chair, Michael Goldberg,
pulled the plug seven minutes before curtain was due to rise. A full-on argument in front of a packed audience of press and local dignitaries became a piece of theatre in itself, with
Marowitz claiming he was being censored, while Goldberg and fellow board
member Duncan Macrae angrily defended their decision until Marowitz
stormed out of the theatre.

'Producer Offensive To The Queen' ran the headline in the Glasgow
Herald the next day, before the production went ahead with actor Peter
Halliday sporting Britannia's helmet rather than the Queen's tiara in a
not entirely convincing sleight-of-hand.

Marowitz adopted a cavalier attitude towards both classic and modern
plays, with Shakespeare in particular falling prey to a cut and paste
irreverence that pre-dated many post-modern directors, with his A
Hamlet, A Macbeth and others outraging purists even as a younger and
more open-minded audience lapped them up.

In 1981, having alienated pretty much anyone in British theatre he'd
worked with, and with the Open Space having closed its doors a year
earlier, Marowitz returned to the United States, where he opened a new
Open Space in Los Angeles. He also became assistant director of the Los
Angeles Theatre Centre, which he left suddenly in 1989 after a series
of rows. It was a similar story with the Malibu stage Company, which he
founded in 1990, before his twelve year tenure as artistic director
ended after he was fired following a unanimous decision by the
company's board.

In 1987, Marowitz's play, Sherlock's Last Case, appeared on Broadway,
with Frank Langella in the title role, and in 2002, Murdering Marlowe,
which imagined a meeting between Marlowe and Shakespeare, was selected
as a finalist for the GLAAD Media Awards.

Marowitz is survived by his second wife, Jane Windsor-Marowitz, who he
married in 1982, and their son, Kostya.

The Herald, May 23rd 2014


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