Archive for the tag 'Mary Doveton'

Bowie, Burroughs and Me

January 12th, 2016

David Bowie died on 10 January 2016.  He was 69 years old, three years younger than I am.  The only album of his that I owned was Ziggy Stardust back in 1972 and, later, I was a big fan of three of his movies—The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), The Hunger (1983), and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (also 1983).  There were rumors that Bowie visited William Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas, but our paths never crossed.  Not in the usual way, anyway.  I have already written about all this in (under the subsection “Limoscenes” for my play Lee and the Boys in the Backroom).  You can read the full entry there, but I am reproducing below the part that deals with David Bowie.

Because of my friendship with William S. Burroughs and James Grauerholz (see also my NAKED LUNCH entries in the “Limerances” section of this website), it was only a matter of time before someone would suggest that I adapt something by Burroughs for the stage. I forget now who made the initial suggestion. It might have been James Grauerholz himself, or it might have been Mary Doveton, the artistic director of the Lawrence Community Theatre, where my plays CHAMBERS and FLESH, FLASH AND FRANK HARRIS had originally premiered. I was intrigued by the suggestion, and immediately read all the published works of Burroughs. The dramatist in me responded best to the novel QUEER because it was the most linear of Burroughs’ books, and also because it was a tragic love story on many levels.

When James and William both agreed to let me adapt QUEER for the stage, they also gave me permission to look through and use carte blanche any of the unpublished correspondence during the time period of the novel (1949-1952) between William and his friends back in the United States, among them Allen Ginsberg. How can any playwright resist this offer? And so I looked through the letters in the filing cabinets in Burroughs’ house in Lawrence, and the structure of the play began to emerge and evolve.

I showed big chunks of the play to William and James as I finished writing them, and they both seemed very pleased. After they read the first draft, the only suggestion I got by way of feedback from James was that I should cut some of the puns I had introduced into the text. James told me that, although William was a wordsmith and loved wordplay, he was not really a punster. And so I combed through the script and cut out most of the puns, this being perhaps the only time I’ll ever confess to being caught with my puns down.

Back in 1987, I wasn’t sure if calling the play QUEER, like the novel, would be a good move, even in a liberal town like Lawrence, KS.  However, back then in America, within the homosexual community, even with thousands of people dying of A.I.D.S., it was well known that many gay men continued to have unprotected sex in gay bathhouses and also in the dark backrooms of gay bars and xxx-rated movie houses. I tried to draw a parallel between Lee’s promiscuity in Mexico forty years earlier, with what was going on within the gay community in America in the late-1980s. And, of course, there was that lusty song, “The Boys in the Backroom,” which the gay icon Marlene Dietrich had sung in the movie DESTRY RIDES AGAIN. I thought the song was rousing and carousing, maybe even arousing in a different context, and that’s why I decided to call the play LEE AND THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM. In retrospect, maybe I should have had the guts to just call it QUEER, after the novel from which it had been adapted.

My friend Paul Hough was not available to direct this play. I did not think there was anyone else around who had the right “sensibility” for the material, so I decided to direct it myself for the Lawrence Community Theatre, May 8-12, 1987. Because William S. Burroughs is who he is, and also because James Grauerholz is a superb publicist, the production attracted a great deal of attention. I remember there being a great deal of talk about another production, Off or Off-Off Broadway in New York, but this never actually materialized.

James informed me later that I had never actually entered into a legal arrangement with William to adapt the novel and/or the letters, that there was no contract, that I had no right to pursue other productions of the play. Besides, he said, there were other “more important people” who were also interested in adapting the novel QUEER, not for the stage, but for the movies. Among the names he mentioned was David Bowie. But, to make matters worse, James dropped some hints that both he and William never really liked my play. Because of this, James and I stopped talking to each other for a long time. But we eventually made up before William died. We’ve never talked about the play again, and there has never been another production of LEE AND THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM. Nor has David Bowie (or anyone else) ever adapted QUEER for the movies. But this may still be forthcoming.

30 November 2015: Spawns of Ron Willis…

November 30th, 2015

There’s a wonderful profile piece in the Lawrence Journal-World this morning about the indefatigable Ric Averill, founder of the pioneering local theater group called the Seem-To-Be-Players from the 1970s, and current director of performing arts at the Lawrence Arts Center.

In the article, Mary Doveton says this about Ric:  “He’s like any of us that are working in the creative arts.  You get an idea and you run with it.  It’s exciting and exhilarating, and you gather people around you that are like-minded, and everybody feeds off everybody.  Rick’s a really creative guy, and he’s always got a positive attitude, and he makes people feel good about themselves.”

Mary Doveton is, of course, herself “The Force” who founded the Lawrence Community Theatre, also in the 1970s, an organization which, in its early days, nurtured original scripts and produced three of my plays:  Hatchet Club, Chambers, and Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris.  Mary encouraged me to direct the first two, but undertook to direct the third one herself.  And now, 35 years later, I am myself directing a staged reading of Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris.  We are presently in rehearsal for just one performance at 7 PM on Thursday, December 3rd at the Lawrence Public Library.  I have 14 very fine actors in the cast.  When they ask me for notes, all I can think of is Mary back in 1980 telling the original cast they must “SPARKLE! SPARKLE! SPARKLE!”  I don’t know how to top that, so I’m just telling my actors to “twinkle… twinkle… twinkle…” like the little stars that they are.

Today’s article about Ric Averill reminds me of another piece in the Lawrence Journal-World from (I think) the late 1990s, in which Prof. Ronald A. Willis was being interviewed about the theatre scene in Lawrence.  By then, besides Ric Averill’s Seem-To-Be-Players and Mary Doveton’s Lawrence Community Theatre, there was also Jackie Davis at the helm of the new Lied Center; my own English Alternative Theatre (EAT), which I founded primarily to produce the original scripts being written by my students; and Andy Stowers’ EMU Theatre was also waiting in the wings.  We had all studied at one time or another with Ron. In that article, Ron in his characteristic way laughed and said that attendance at theatrical events being presented at Murphy Hall was dwindling because the K.U. Theatre Department had “spawned its own competition.”  He named the organizations, but not the names of the students he had spawned.

Ronald A. Willis died at home at age 79 on March 6, 2015, of congestive heart failure.  A wonderfully celebratory memorial service was held at the Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall on Saturday, March 14, at 3 PM.  I could not be there because I was not in Lawrence at the time, but I have now watched the entire 79-minute tribute several times on YouTube.  Two of his three sons spoke, two of his granddaughters spoke, a sprinkling of colleagues and former students spoke.  Among the latter, lots of other spawns, but none of them from the local theatre scene.


Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary…

September 14th, 2011

Through the years, I’ve had a strange love/hate relationship with Mary Doveton, the Founding Mother and Executive Director of Theatre Lawrence, formerly the Lawrence Community Theatre.  Mary directed the world premiere of my play Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris (1984); and encouraged me to direct three others of my own at LCT—Hatchet Club (1983), Chambers (1985), Lee and the Boys in the Back Room (1987).

Additionally, through the years, I’ve directed many other plays at LCT, frequently as co-productions with English Alternative Theatre (EAT), my own theatre-producing organization within the English Department at the University of Kansas.  Among these productions are Master Class by David Pownall (1986), Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard (1989), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (1998), A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (2000).

Many stories can be told about each one of these productions, some funny, some not so funny, but nothing to seriously damage my friendship and working relationship with Mary Doveton.  And then something happened during the production of Whiteout, a new play by my student Alan Newton which Piet Knetsch was directing for EAT in the LCT space in October of 2000.  I am not yet ready to share with everyone the awful details of what happened at that time. But then, in 2007, along came someone out of the blue who inadvertently “buried the hatchet” once and for all, although not in the usual sense one uses this phrase, as to where the hatchet is buried.

In June and July of 2007, Zack Mannheimer, an enterprising young director who had grown weary of the theatre scene in New York, decided to undertake “A Survey of the American Theatre Landscape” by embarking on a remarkable journey which takes him from Pittsburgh, PA to Raleigh, NC, with 25 stops in between, to see if there is a hospitable city where he can locate his own theatre company.  He started a daily blog ( which you can read in its entirety, or you can skip ahead to what he says about Day 49 of his odyssey, in Lawrence.  I’m reproducing below, the more salient passages of his account of the separate interviews he had with Mary Doveton and myself, in our respective offices.

Post 49—Day 49: Thr 7/19/2007—Lawrence

After a shower at…Jay Hawk Motel…I leave to attend my first appointment with Mary Doveton, the Executive Director of The Lawrence Community Theatre ( Housed in an old church, the theatre is one block out of the heart of downtown on New Hampshire Street….

I am led downstairs to the offices by the receptionist who brings me into the green room.  Mary is busy speaking to another employee. Behind me sits a large-scale model for a new theatre, and I find out later that this larger space will be opening in 2009.

….Mary brings me into her book-lined office and we sit down. “I’m sorry, we only have a few minutes, I do have another appointment coming shortly.”  Mary sits before me, a strong-willed woman of about 55 who, despite her stern look, is as sweet as Moscato….We begin with the usual round of questions, and Mary answers: “This is our 31st season. We bought this space in 1984. Before that we were operating out of community centers or wherever we could find space.”

LCT has an operating budget of $325,000 of which 65% is earned through ticket prices of $14-$20. They do receive some assistance from granting organizations, but the other 35% is made up mostly through private donations and corporate sponsorship. “There isn’t much, we get about $8,000 from the Kansas Arts Commission,” Mary tells me after I ask her about state/city funding. “There isn’t a lot of public funding in Kansas.”

LCT produces 6 shows per year, recently closing Thoroughly Modern Millie to sold out houses….Mary explains that they try to produce cutting edge work, but the same people always come to that; there does not tend to be an overlap of those who come for campy musicals to something like the latest Shanley play. “Mysteries and musicals bring in the money, and that’s what we need right now.”

…..Her next appointment, who was running late, has now arrived. Before I leave I tell her about my quest to find a new city (to settle in). “Do not come here,” she warns me pointedly. “There’s just not enough room for another group.”

Mary asks me where I’m headed next. “Off to English Alternative Theatre to meet with Paul Lim,” I say.  She makes a face. Not a pleasant one.  “What?”  “O, nothing. Enjoy your talk with Paul.”

And with that, I’m on the road across town to the University where Paul is a professor. It seems, as I am gauging from Mary’s comment, that the theatre community here knows each other, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they like each other.

I’m on the phone with Paul as I cannot seem to find the building he is talking about. “I’m in a black shirt standing in a spot for you as there isn’t a lot of parking,” he says.  I arrive almost 30 minutes late to meet him, after driving repeatedly in the wrong direction down dead end streets….

“Hello!” Paul greets me as I finally pull into my reserved spot.  “I’m so sorry, I got lost.”  “Don’t worry. Come, let’s go to my office.”  I follow Paul into Wescoe Hall for the Humanities. Paul is a lively, happy man of about 60.  Originally from the Philippines, he wound up in Lawrence at KU for college, receiving his BA in 1969, his MA and becoming a GTA in 1972, a lecturer in 1978 and was granted full professorship in 1989. He is the Chancellor’s Club Teaching Professor of Playwriting in the English Department. Not the Theatre Department. Don’t mess that up.

Paul brings me into his small office jampacked with books, posters of old productions, and endless knick-knacks. I sit down beside his desk and we begin. I have so many questions for him about his company, English Alternative Theatre (, and its affiliation with the university. “EAT is the only theatre company in the country run through the English department,” he tells me….

“Since you’ve been in Lawrence for quite some time, how has it changed?”  “People used to be more adventurous,” he begins, “but that time seems to have passed. There is not a great deal of risk-taking now when it comes to theatre. Lawrence Community Theatre used to take a lot of risks, but that’s not what pays the bills anymore. Still, there is a small handful of people in the community who actually miss what they used to do.”

EAT has an annual budget of $15,000 – $20,000. Most artists are not paid, as it is almost uniformly student driven, though the designers, technicians and stage managers he brings in are given a stipend. “I don’t like them to do work for free,” Paul says.  “Does the university provide the funding?” He laughs. “We have one angel who gives us money—it’s been the same person since our inception; we founded the group together.””Who is this?” I ask curiously. Paul hands me a copy of Angels in the American Theater.  Apparently, Southern Illinois University Press, who tends to publish all the important theatrical essay books, has just put out a book about theatrical donors in America, and there is an entire article devoted to EAT’s one Angel, Grant K. Goodman. Goodman has an amazing story…there’s not enough room here to go into it, but the long and short of it is that he has always had a lifetime devotion to and love of theatre. Each year he gives EAT the full budget for the season. Paul has never run a fundraiser and has never received a grant, though they are a not-for-profit.

Angels in American Theater is an important book. Never, to my knowledge, has a book been written about the donors of American theatre. This is vital as there would be no theatre without these generous folk. For better or worse, these are the first line of defense when it comes to creating theatre in this country. While I typically abhor the wealthy paying for the art that they want, this book does not only profile the typical Broadway donors. There’s a whole chapter on EAT in Lawrence, Kansas, for god sakes. Robert A. Schanke is the editor and the brainchild behind this operation. He has edited and/or written a virtual catalog of books on American Theatre, this one being part of the Theater in the Americas series that he edits….

But back to Paul, talking about who performs in his shows “The actors come from the community and the student body. I get a lot of the disenchanted theatre students, the ones who just fall through the cracks but are talented and want to perform.”  He says this rather jollily, his round face bobbing along with his words, kindness and warmth emanating from the wide hands he speaks with. “We’ve sent about 20 students to various regional festivals of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival…and we’ve had 5 or 6 go on to win on the national level.”

“It’s all about the students,” Paul reflects.

This was such a wonderful meeting, and it was warming to be back inside a university.  For all of my dislike of what some of them do, I do miss the feeling of being inside academia. I bid farewell to Paul, and am off to The Pig downtown to continue on with my writing.

I don’t know what’s happened to Zack Mannheimer, and whether he ever actually relocated to any of the cities he visited and wrote about back in 2007.  But, it has now been nearly twelve years since I’ve stepped foot inside 1501 New Hampshire.

And now, of course, Mary Doveton is in the final stages of raising $6.2 million to build a new home for her newly-named Theatre Lawrence at 6th and Wakarusa, at the western edge of Lawrence, far away from the heart of the community.  Last I heard, as of a couple of weeks ago, she was still around $600,000 short of her goal. She needs to raise the amount before the end of September, or she’ll lose a $1.2 million out-of-state challenge grant, and that will be the end of that.

Thankfully, on September 6, Lawrence city commissioners approved giving Theatre Lawrence $100,000 ($20,000 a year for the next five years). A week later, on September 13, representatives from Theatre Lawrence asked Douglas County commissioners to do the same, to give the organization another $100,000 (also $20,000 a year for the next five years).

In its editorial on September 14, The Lawrence Journal-World wrote:

“After making a successful funding pitch to the Lawrence City Commission last week, representatives of Theatre Lawrence, the former Lawrence Community Theatre, have decided to extend their tour with a stop at the Douglas County Commission…to ask county officials to make a similar commitment….To many local taxpayers, this seems like a double-dip….The theater received a generous contribution last week in the form of $100,000 in city taxpayer money. The decision now to ask the county to match that amount may be over-reaching. A large majority of county residents already will be contributing to the fund through the city’s contribution.  Should they be asked to give again through the county?

“Theatre Lawrence says it needs the money to reach its $6.2 million fundraising goal by the end of this month and collect a $1 million out-of-state challenge grant.  We hope they are successful in meeting their goal, but, especially at a time when local government dollars are in such high demand to fund essential services, the city’s contribution of local tax dollars may be enough.”

Needless to say, I’ve been thinking about Mary Doveton a great deal these past couple of weeks.  And I’ve just reread what Zack Mannheimer had to say about Mary when he mentioned my name.  What I’m wondering now, of course, is whether or not to bury the hatchet, this time in the usual sense of the phrase, by giving Theatre Lawrence a bunch of money before the end of September.  If I do so, maybe Mary will no longer make a face, an unpleasant one, the next time my name is brought up in casual conversation.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle-shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.


Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris: A Recreation in Two Acts

July 18th, 2009

Requirements:  35 parts which can be played by 5F, 8M

Setting:  The bedroom and study of Frank Harris in Nice.  Prominently displayed in one corner is a life-size plaster reproduction of the Venus de Milo.  For the flashback sequences, there is a limbo area downstage, and also various platforms upstage.  Mid-morning, late August, 1931.

Plot:  Because he was the editor of the prestigious Fortnightly Review and then the Saturday Review, and also because he had a knack for cultivating and befriending all the important people of his day, Frank Harris was the toast of London society by the time he was in his early 30s.   Among his intimates were George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, the Prince of Wales, Princess Alice of Monaco, etc.  But Frank lived lavishly and squandered his wealth.  To raise money, he wrote and published My Life and Loves, his scandalous autobiography which was immediately banned as pornography, and seized by authorities on both sides of the Atlantic.  When the play begins, Frank Harris is again penniless at age 76 in 1931, living with his unmarried daughter in a small apartment in Nice.  His old friend George Bernard Shaw is coming to visit, and Frank expects to borrow money from him.  While waiting for Shaw to show up, Frank entertains his daughter with wonderful stories from the past, and it is through these stories that we learn not only about his scandalous “life and loves,” but also his spectacular “rise and fall.”  When Shaw finally appears, we get a battle of wits between the two men.

Theme:  It goes without saying that there can be great platonic friendships between men, and also between women, but is friendship between men and women ever truly possible, especially if sex is involved?

Notes:  Frank Harris is portrayed in this play by three different actors–Young Frank from age 11 to 18, Middle Frank from age 26 to 60, and Old Frank from age 61 to 75.  The three Franks see each other and talk to each other throughout, but Young Frank knows about himself only through age 18, and Middle Frank  only through age 60.  Old Frank is the only one who knows his entire history but, at age 76,  his memory is starting to fail him; to say nothing of the fact that, all his life, Frank Harris has always been accused of twisting and sometimes even fabricating facts to suit his own literary purpose.  As he puts it, “Facts frequently get in the way of the Truth.”  This play tries to portray the Truth as Frank Harris saw it.

History:  The play was first produced in Lawrence, Kansas by the Lawrence Community Theatre, on April 23-27, 1980.  Mary Doveton was the director.  It was subsequently produced Off-Broadway in New York by Shelter West Company, October 27-Nov. 20, 1983 and Jan. 20-Feb. 12, 1984.  Judith Joseph directed.

Sampling of reviews:
“In Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris, we come to understand this unusual and many-faceted man….With Shaw, Wilde and Harris sharing the stage, you’d expect witty dialogue, and it’s there in abundance.” — N.Y. Theater Voice
“Lim has skillfully told the whole story…with humor, pathos and dramatic force.” — Glenn Loney, After Dark
“Well-crafted structure.” — Village Voice
“A highly-literate script….Lim has become the most noteworthy of our regional playwrights.” — The Kansas City Star
“Titillating and provocative…something like witnessing historical figures come to life in a wax museum.” — The Lawrence Journal-World

Short scene from the play: Old Frank is telling Middle Frank and Young Frank about the first woman he married, an older woman who also happens to be a very wealthy widow.  In the flashback that follows, MRS. EMILY CLAYTON emerges from “the memorhy pool,” dressed in a fashionable evening gown of the late 1880s.  MIDDLE FRANK has wandered off by himself at an evening party, and she has followed him to the library. She watches him downing his port.

YOUNG FRANK: (Incredulously.)  I was married to that?  Oh, surely, I could have done better.  Even Mrs. Mayhew in Kansas was better than that!

OLD FRANK: (Laughing.)  That is a widow worth over ninety thousand pounds.  Also, after three decades of marriage to a man 38 years her senior she was plainly ripe for…

EMILY:  Mr. Harris?

MIDDLE FRANK: (Turning around to face her.)  Yes?

EMILY:  I was beginning to think you’d left the party without saying goodbye to anyone.

MIDDLE FRANK: (Pouring himself another glass of port.)  Oh no, Mrs. Clayton.  I wouldn’t do that.  I was just…

EMILY:  Hiding from all the mothers with unmarried daughters?  Ahhhh, Mr. Harris, you must get used to that.  Eligible young bachelors are a rarity in our circle. Tell me, how does it feel to be the most talked-about man in London tonight?

MIDDLE FRANK:  Am I the most talked-about man in London tonight?

EMILY:  Come, come, Mr. Harris.  It’s not everyday a 30-year-old maverick gets appointed editor of the Fortnightly Review!  (Pause.)  And what do you think of our unmarried daughters?  Some of them can be quite charming, I’m told.

MIDDLE FRANK:  I’m afraid I really do not care for young girls.


MIDDLE FRANK:   (Obviously enjoying himself.) Women are, in my opinion, like wine.  Red Bordeaux is like the lawful wife:  an excellent beverage that goes with every meal, always acceptable, but entirely predictable.  If a man accustomed to Red Bordeaux wants something more exhilirating, chances are he’ll turn to champagne.  Champagne is like the woman of the streets:  always within reach, although its price is out of all proportion to its worth.

EMILY:  Please continue with your analogy.  I find the conceit most stimulating.

MIDDLE FRANK:  Moselle is the girl of fourteen to eighteen:  light, quick on the tongue, has little or no body.  The memory of it is fleeting and fragile.  Burgundy I think of as the woman of thirty:  more generous, more body, a perfume which lingers.
(He refills his glass again.  He holds up the decanter of port and smiles.)
And then we come to port, the woman of forty or older:  richer and sweeter than all the others, keeps excellently and ripens with age, but can only be drunk freely by youth.  Yes, if one is young and vigorous, the best wine in the world is crusted port, half a century old.

EMILY:  And you, Mr. Harris, which of all these wines do you prefer?

MIDDLE FRANK: ( A twinkle in his eye.)  It is port I am now drinking.

OLD FRANK: ( To YOUNG FRANK.)  Ahhh, you were in your element then!  Magnificent, just magnificent!EMILY: ( Slowly.)  Mr. Harris, I have at home a very fine bottle of crusted port.  I’ve been saving it since my husband died.  If I give a small party Friday next and promise to let you sample the port, will you come?

MIDDLE FRANK:  Of course.  I will be delighted

EMILY:  Good.  I shall send my carriage to fetch you….Until next Friday, then.  Goodnight, Mr. Harris.

(End of scene.)

Availability:  From Aran Press, and also from the author.