Speaking / performing at the LEON KATZ MEMORIAL CELEBRATION, Kirk Douglas Theatre, LA, 12 JUN 17
Leon’s brilliant and highly-acclaimed play Beds debuted in 2000 at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood directed by Leon and Debra DeLiso and featuring Irene Roseen as Alice B. Toklas, Jeremy Lawrence as Oskar Kokoschka, and Travis Michael Holder in his award-winning turn as the dying Oscar Wilde “composing a letter in the air” to his absent lover Lord Alfred Douglas. Here is Travis recreating a passage from Beds:
I am Tireseas!
No. No, no, no. Not Tireseas…
I am… I am…
No! No lamentations!
At the moment, dear Bosie,
I am struck with another fantasy.
One you deplored
and one which we both destroyed:
Oscar: Husband and Father.
Bourgeois malgre lui!
And one day,
with adoring wife and adorable sons,
The superbly respectable quartet!
Shopping! In the better part of Piccadilly Circus…
I, on the verge of entering Swan and Edgar,
the door ajar and wife and sons already through its portals
but I not yet quite inside the shop’s dark enclosures,
Glance back, for an instant, at the brilliant sky and busy street,
And catch, in that glance,
the painted boys on the pavement
Shocking passersby with their costumes and their airs…
Both horror and… affinity, I suppose…
Clutched at my heart like ice
And dwelt there, unrelentingly,
until ice turned to fire.
For I knew that in knowing them I knew myself.
I knew their paint was under my features
and their clothing a thin layer beneath my own.
My imagination rushed…
To be among them.
"The Oscar Wilde section of Beds, which consisted of an hour-long monologue ending in Wilde’s death during a very Katzian, very lengthy onstage orgasm, was excerpted from Leon’s full-length still unproduced solo play Dear Bosie. About four years ago, several days after waxing nostalgic about the experience of playing the role with Leon, he called to say, 'You must play Oscar again' and told me, if I was interested in doing the whole entire Dear Bosie, he was offering me the rights to present it. I reminded him that, although I’d love to revisit his fascinating take on Oscar, I'd played the role in 2000. I was then 53 or 54. Four years ago, I was 66--20 year older than Wilde was when he died in 1900 at age 46. Leon roared, 'Damn it! How frustrating! This whole age thing always gets in the way, doesn't it?'
"Not that it did much for Leon, who once told me many of his ancestors lived to be 100 and he intended to beat them. Well, despite his health and tubes in his nose, the guy almost made it, didn’t he? Maybe he would have made it to 100 and past if the inauguration of our 45th President, three days before he died, had turned out differently.
"I’d met Leon the year before he first asked me to do Beds through Maria Gobetti and Tom Ormeny when he was serving as dramaturg for Tom’s play Life on the Line, which provided another chance for me to die onstage—though less euphorically. Leon and I became instant friends and there are so many memories, especially watching the transformation on my students’ faces when I would ask Leon to come speak to them in my class studying 20th century playwrights to kids whose knowledge of theatrical history begins with Will Farrell and ending with Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson.
"But the most vivid memories I hold dear are less academic. Like, driving with him in the pouring rain—anybody ever ride with Leon behind the wheel, the only person who could ever park halfway up a curb and not worry about the ticket? So, during a major storm, I accompanied him to a special effects warehouse in Chatsworth to check out lifesize dolls that Jeremy Lawrence as Oskar Kokoschka would abuse physically and sexually each night in Beds. My most vivid memories of that strange day—besides the drive—were how seriously Leon checked out each doll for durability and… well… anatomical access, and how the proprietor of the shop, from his reaction, surely thought Leon was not at all really interested in producing a play.
"But here’s the story I tell about Leon the most: About 10 years ago, Leon came to see me in Glengarry Glen Ross. As we shared a meal afterwards, he flattered me profusely, finally telling me my take on Shelley 'The Machine' Levine was one of the best performances he’d ever seen. Of course, I was sufficiently stunned and hopefully accepted his compliment graciously, as his unending and passionate support for my career, which has hardly been on par with, say, anyone knighted by the British Empire, had been such a game-changer for me and my sagging confidence—especially after becoming the only geriatric juvenile with an ass the size of an outdoor movie screen in the business.
"But, yes, soon the gin-and-tonic started to kick in and I started to whine—the same kind of whining that one hears during a break at any Hollywood scene study workshop. I began to grumble about how ephemeral acting for the stage is, saying that two years from then he'd remember I was good as poor ol’ Shelley but he would not remember exactly why, unlike the formaldehyde-bottled nature of a performance captured on film, something I am still to conquer in these, my own quickly dwindling twilight years.
"As an example, I told him when I was about eight, rehearsing for my first play in New York, everyone around me, including people like Paul Muni and Melvyn Douglas, kept talking about how great Laurette Taylor had been as Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie but she had died when I was two months old so I never got to see just how good she had been. Leon pondered for a moment, then leaned across the table and said, 'Travis, let me put your mind at rest. Laurette wasn't that good. Now, Nazimova as Hedda Gabler in 1926... like yours, that was a performance I'll never forget.'
No one, no one ever in the world, could put someone in their place as slyly and elegantly as Leon Katz.