8 - 21
Gay Theater Pioneer Doric Wilson Dead at 72
Out playwright at Caffe Cino from early ‘60s was also lifelong activist
BY ANDY HUMM
oric Wilson survivedthe birth of the off-off-Broadway movement,three nights of the StonewallRiots, and 50 years of writingand producing gay theater.But when the play about Doric himself is written, theplaywright will be stuck with thecliché that this bear of a man with an enormous heart suc-cumbed to a weak ticker anddied on May 7. He was 72.Doric came to prominencein 1961 at the legendary CaffeCino, the birthplace of off-off-Broadway run by Joe Cino at 31 Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village since 1958. It was whereplaywrights John Guare, Rob-ert Patrick, María Irene Fornés,Lanford Wilson, William Hoff-man, and Jean-Claude vanItallie got their starts as well. When Doric met Cino, he –– like almost all newcom-ers –– was asked his sign. Theanswer “Pisces” got him a per-formance date of March 18,1961 for “And He Made Her,” a reworking of the Adam and Evemyth.Doric participated in threenights of the Stonewall Riots, but he was out long beforethen, writing gay-themed work by the early 1960s.Robert Patrick said, “One of his four Cino plays, ‘Now SheDances,’ takes the trial of Oscar Wilde, turns it into the story of Salome which Wilde himself had dramatized, puts it in Vic-torian times, and then, off of the modern streets of New York — Cornelia Street where theCaffe Cino was — as its Johnthe Baptist, it brings on a gay rights protestor before there were gay rights protestors. How many innovations is that?” After Stonewall, Doric also worked as a bartender andmanager at such legendary gay bars as the Spike and Ty’s, as well as at Brothers and Sisterscabaret. Writer and activist Perry Brass, who knew Doric fromthe early ’70s at the Gay Activ-ists Alliance (GAA), wrote on his blog that Doric loved “keepinggay theater alive in New York (and elsewhere). When I say ‘gay theater,’ I mean like gay theater with no apologies. Because gay theater is different from say,‘Angels in America’ or the next episode of ‘Glee’ when Curt stilldoesn’t get to kiss his cute boy-friend.”Brass wrote that Doric “wasone of the inventors of gay the-ater, when it was crazy, disrup-tive, transgressive, shocking,tacky, funny and absolutely wrap-your-lips-around-it lov-able.”In 1974, Doric founded thefirst professional gay theater company, The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS), with Billy Blackwell, John McSpadden,and Peter del Valle. They did works by everyone from Cowardand Orton to McNally, Patrick,and the other recently departed Wilson, Lanford –– not to men-tion Doric himself, who wrote“Street Theater,” about theStonewall Riots, and “The West Street Gang,” about gay peoplephysically fighting back against gay-bashing.He earned the first Rob-ert Chesley Award for Lifetime Achievement in Gay and Lesbi-an Playwriting in 1994 and wasrecognized for Artistic Achieve-ment at the New York Innovative Theater Awards in 2007. With Barry Childs and Mark Finley, Doric revived TOSOS as TOSOS II in 2001, eventually dropping the “II.” Jack Schlegelof Out Professionals recalledthat his group played a key rolein the resurrection of TOSOS when the three came to an OPprogram at Manhattan’s LGBT Community Center.“Doric said, ‘This is the audi-ence for TOSOS!’” Schlegel toldGay City News. The revived company started with staged readings and went back to doing fully staged pro-ductions, including a site-spe-cific production of “Street The-ater” at the Spike.Childs, administrative direc-tor of TOSOS, said Doric “deep-ly… cared about giving new andemerging playwrights a chanceto have their work seen andtheir voices heard.”Finley shared that Doric had been in poor health for the past two years with respiratory andheart problems. “He told me,‘I can really feel myself slowingdown,’” he said.“He really loved really goodactors and loved to tell stories,”continued Finley, who got hiredas Doric’s director after the twomet at a cabaret and hit it off.Finley is the artistic director of TOSOS.Rick Hinkson, a director at TOSOS, knew Doric from 1986 when he lived in Seattle, whereDoric had moved to be close tohis elderly mother.“He was such a large pres-ence physically and mentally,”he said, “that people didn’t know how precarious his health was.”Hinkson said Doric was close tofinishing his last play, “Boy Next Door,” a comedy about an agingporn star and an OOB play- wright loosely based on Robert Patrick.Doric Wilson was born Feb-ruary 24, 1939 in Los Angeles, but grew up on his grandfa-ther’s Kennewick, Washingtonranch. His high school Englishteacher flunked him for writinga play in fulfillment of a classassignment, after insisting that none of her students was smart enough to do so and accusinghim of plagiarism. Undeterred,Doric went on to write 12 full-length plays and nurture innu-merable others.Edward Albee, who had once been lovers with Doric, told Gay City News, “We went back a long way. I saw his work at the Cino.He was a good guy and a goodplaywright.” Albee once told Doric he was“too nice to be a playwright.” Terrence McNally, who had work produced by TOSOS,called Doric “a great pioneer.”Marshall Mason, the longtimedirector of Lanford Wilson’s work and founder of Circle Rep, where Doric was a foundingmember in 1969, said Doric’s“Now She Dances” “was the first play that I saw in New York.”He said that Jane Lowry, whostarred in that production, wasDoric’s “muse.”Lanford Wilson, who diedin March, said in 2004, “If thepress had discovered Caffe Cinothree years earlier, it would have been Doric everyone was talkingabout instead of me.” Lanford’s breakthrough “The Madness of Lady Bright” bowed at the Cinoin 1964. Actor and playwright DavidDrake wrote on Facebook intribute, “I thank you, Doric, for giving me the first line I spokeon a NY stage in your mas-terpiece ‘Street Theater.’ Of course, because it came from your mind, Doric, that line got a laugh… every night.”Ever the activist, Doric’sown last Facebook posting onMay 6, the day before he died, was, “Tell Congress: End gov-ernment handouts to rich oilcompanies.”I interviewed Doric for a charity photo calendar called“Legends of the Village” sev-eral years ago, and his famoushumor was prompted by itspublication. “I love the calen-dar,” he told me, “but who’s thefat guy who jumped betweenme and the camera?”Of why he loved theater somuch, he wrote, “The wonder-ful words, the laughter, theimpossible made magic by theringing of a bell –– that’s what I remember most. I remember everything but the dates.” William Hoffman, playwright of “As Is,” remembers Doricfrom 1965, when they workedat Hill & Wang.“Doric and I both wearingsuits, kind of cruising eachother,” he said. “Nothing every happened, but I realized that this man was beautiful.”Hoffman was with Doric at his last birthday bash.“He loved the cabaret singersand the operas singers,” Hoff-man recalled. “He was literally in ecstasy. It was the happiest moment of his life. You couldsee it in his expressions. Heloved performers, the theater,and gay people.”
Doric Wilson, with his mother Marjorie, at Manhattan’s 1974 Gay Pride March.
Lanford Wilson said, “If the presshad discovered Caffe Cino three years earlier, it would have beenDoric everyone was talking about.”