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For further information, please contact Jonathan Lomma at WME Entertainment byemail (jdl@wmeentertainment.com)
or write to Mr. Lomma at WME, 11 Madison Avenue, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10010

DPS: Dramatists Play Service, BPP: Broadway Play Publishing, SF: Samuel French Inc.

Short Plays

The Comeback (1964)

4 m, 2 w; single set DPS

 

This is my retelling of the homecoming of Odysseus. I wrote it fresh from having taught Homer in a Freshman Humanities course at M.I.T. and from having encountered a play or two by Jean Anouilh, the French playwright who was popular at that time. The coffee house venue for short plays was just coming into fashion in those days, and this effort opened at Club 47 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, directed by Paul Austin. We got reviews good enough to enable me to hold onto my job as Instructor in Humanities for another year at M.I.T. Our run is also memorable, at least to me, because Spaulding Gray replaced an actor in the part of Telemachus. The Comeback was picked up and published by the Dramatists Play Service , and is still performed now and then in high schools.

Darlene (1998)

1 m, 1 w. Simple set. BBP

 

A short curtain-raiser, written originally to accompany The Guest Lecturer when it was first produced at the George Street Playhouse. I can’t say that this is my favorite work of art, but its tone of mystery may have helped set the stage for the darker and more perverse effects of its longer companion.

 

The Golden Fleece. (1967)

1m,1 w; no set. SF

 

This is the second play of mine to be produced in the Albee-Barr-Wilder Playwrights Unit. It was first performed at the tiny Van Dam theatre in lower Manhattan, with Barbara Baxley, and was directed by Jered Barclay. I was interested in Greek mythology at that time, and this was my treatment of the Medea myth, transposed to modern times and the Boston suburbs. The play runs about an hour, offers two good parts, and because it makes no real scenic demands, can be put on pretty much anywhere.

Luckily, while we were performing it in New York, Gordon Davison, the producer of the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, happened to stop by and see its possibilities for filling a spot which had just become available at his theatre. We quickly opened the play there with a different cast., namely Helen Westcott and Tim O’Connor. The play got excellent reviews, despite the fact that our leading lady, nervous about her career, had consulted the bottle excessively on opening night. I remember stopping by her dressing room to wish her well and finding her slouched on the couch in tears with the stage manager pouring coffee down her throat while the understudy frantically tried to learn her lines in the hall. I thought I had lost a major chance to succeed in the strange world of show business, but after a considerable delay, Ms Westcott persuaded the director she was ready to play the play, and play it she did, adding at least ten minutes to the evening because of her painstakingly slow delivery.

Despite its hesitant beginning, this production of The Golden Fleece went on to be televised nationally on what was then called Educational Television in an arts program produced by Jac Venza , who ultimately became the producer of “Theatre in America”. A year later, The Golden Fleece opened in New York at the Actor’s Playhouse, with Rue McLanahan and Tim O’Connor. It served as a curtain-raiser to another one-act of mine called The David Show, with Holland Taylor and F. Murray Abraham, The two plays came in under the overall title of Tonight in Living Color. We got decent reviews and ran for a while but by that time, I was in the M.I.T. infirmary with a bad staphylococcus infection.

The David Show, interestingly enough, had already had one off-Broadway production at the Player’s Theatre which had been thoroughly damned by the New York Times critic, who proclaimed that “Gurney writes like a caterpillar with gloves on.” I had to slink back to M.I.T. clutching that particular review and teach a class on American Drama. Fortunately my students were sympathetic and supportive, and got me through the term.

The Love Course (1969)

2 m, 2w; simple set, SF

 

I’ve written several plays about teaching, but I believe this was the first. I wrote it after teaching a couple of classes with a colleague at M.I.T. Our classes together hardly took the turn I present in the play, but they prompted the central notion which suggests that the subject matter of a course may invade the private feelings of those who teach it, and that the process of teaching may itself have erotic elements.

 

To my knowledge, this play has never had a professional production anywhere, but it is done a lot in colleges and community theatres, and occasionally abroad. Both Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Emily Bronte’s "Wuthering Heights," which have big parts in this play, are elements in other plays I wrote later on. I guess those two works won’t leave me alone.

 

The Love Course has been coupled with another one-act of mine, The Open Meeting, and somewhat brought up to date under the title of Public Affairs, published by Samuel French. My hope is that the two plays go well together and make a full evening in the theatre.

The Old One-Two (1971)

(2 m, 2 w) fluid set, SF

 

Yet another play with an academic setting, written like the others because I taught for over twenty-six years in the Department of Humanities at M.I.T. and found much to write about there. This play, like two of my other shorter ones, found a more welcome reception in London than it did here in the U.S. It opened at a fringe theatre in Islington and was ultimately broadcast over BBC.

 

The only production of it I ever saw, however, was its first, when it was produced by the Drama Department at Brandeis University. During rehearsals, I realized the play had a flat and uninteresting ending, but luckily, a couple days before we opened, I managed to conjure up the present one which seemed to pay off. The Brandeis production was reviewed favorably by William Henry of the Boston Globe. He gave my career a much-needed lift at that time, and continued to write favorably of my work when he became the drama critic for Time magazine. (Thank God for the critics who stay on one’s side.)

 

The character of the Professor in The Old One-Two and the student who challenges him became the basis for more rounded roles and a more serious treatment of the issues in my play Another Antigone which I wrote over fifteen years later.

The Open Meeting (1968)

2 m, 1 w, simple set, SF

 

Like The Problem, The Guest Lecturer, and The Fourth Wall, this is also an excursion into the Theatre of the Absurd which very much influenced me at that time. In those days, when I was still living outside of Boston and teaching at M.I.T., I was very much influenced by a local resident theatre called the Theatre Company of Boston. Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Benedict and Stockard Channing all performed there, under the direction of David Wheeler, and gave us welcome doses of Beckett, Pinter, Genet, Ionesco, and many other playwrights from abroad.

 

The Open Meeting also is indebted to a course on comedy which I was then teaching . In this one, I was trying tried to dramatize, in an absurdist way, the primitive pagan ritual out of which ancient comedy may have arisen. During this time,, a group of us in Boston organized a theatre workshop group called "The New Theatre for Now," and since no one else had shown much interest, we produced The Open Meeting ourselves at the Atma Coffee House in Boston’s South End, where we had already done The Problem. The play never got the laughs I like to think it deserved, but I have yet to give up on it. It is now published by Samuel French together with my more popular one-act The Love Course, under the overall title of Public Affairs.

The Problem (1968)

(1 m, 1 w) simple set. SF; BPP

 

This is probably the most performed of my short plays, at least in schools and colleges. It was originally performed by a theatre group I helped organize called the "New Theatre For Now." We opened at the Atma Coffee House, a cozy gathering-place in the South End of Boston, but it didn’t make much of a splash at that time. Later on , in the 70’s, it was performed in New York by a theatre group in Soho, but I’m not even sure it was reviewed. It took the Brits to jump start it for a more productive career. I have no idea how they found the play or who performed in it, but somehow it opened to enthusiastic reviews at a popular playhouse in the London suburb of Islington, and went on to be broadcast on BBC.

The British response enabled me to persuade Samuel French to publish it. Later it was also published elsewhere, in anthologies and collections. Since then, various people have asked to make movies or even an opera out of The Problem, but it belongs as a play. In 2003, after I made it a touch more contemporary, it was produced by Primary Stages as a curtain raiser to another play of mine called The Guest Lecture under the overall title of Strictly Academic, published Broadway Play Publishing.

The Rape of Bunny Stuntz

(1965) 2w, 1m, simple set. SF

 

This is a satirical view of the suburban life I was living at that time. It was triggered by a suburban matron – we’d call her a soccer mom today – who, when my wife and I needed a helping hand in some crucial enterprise, briskly dismissed us because she was “too busy.” This play was also my first attempt to “create” a role for the audience by asking it to be a passive partner in the events of the play. Steven Gilborn, then a colleague of mine at M.I.T. first directed this play in a small performance space at M.I.T., with the title role played by Marie Phillips, a theatre-loving member of the administrative staff.

 

The play was later performed in New York at the Cherry Lane Theatre, produced by the Playwrights Unit, under the auspices of Edward Albee, Richard Barr, and Clinton Wilder who were very generously introducing the work of fledgling playwrights to off-Broadway. Even then, I was a little old to be called a fledgling but The Rape of Bunny Stuntz stands as my one of my several attempts to take up playwriting as a serious profession, and end what had been a long dry spell after I had graduated from the Yale School of Drama.

 

For further information, please contact Jonathan Lomma at WME Entertainment byemail (jdl@wmeentertainment.com)
or write to Mr. Lomma at WME, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, N.Y., 10019.