We always talked as we folded programs before a show or a reading, and Doric imparted a lot of information, much of it wise, useful and funny. I don’t think I’ve yet begun to realize just how long and how much I will miss Doric.
On May 7 (was it really just a bit more than two weeks ago?), when he didn’t arrive with the programs to the Chesley/Chambers reading of Josh Conkel’s “I Wanna Destroy You,” it was unusual enough that we all began to feel uneasy. Doric didn’t miss TOSOS readings, especially a new work from someone as amazing as Josh Conkel. Three people Doric loved: a playwright, an actor and a singer, went down to his apartment. I set my phone to vibrate and began to watch the reading; a message came that Chris and Zac were on their way back. I went into the hall and waited. When they got off the elevator, they said: “He’s gone.” Behind us, the play went on.
I’d been watching Doric wind down this last year. He had a long history of heart trouble, had had a stroke, and other ailments you might expect after 72 action-packed years of living. Each year, he declared that this was “likely” his last birthday. Eventually you’re going to be right about that.
Of course, he might have been in better shape had he not lost his health insurance back in the ‘80s, when our president (Ronald Reagan) told health insurers they could refuse coverage, or take it away from to gay men. So Doric’s major health problems might have been lesser ones had he been able to receive the treatment he needed then.
I learned about that particular footnote of history from Doric, along with many others, political and theatrical, in the half-dozen years we were part of each others’ lives. He was an excellent teacher outside the classroom. That Saturday night, I expected to rehash and hear his take on our last reading; we’d read Meryl Cohn, Billy Hough and Suzanne Goldberg’s “Insatiable Hunger,” featuring a great cast led by Lea DeLaria. It was our first staged reading of a musical, and a great success.
One line in particular brought the house down: After a character explained to another: “They’re lesbians!” Lea’s character, Max, responded: “I prefer the term 'box fairy'.” Hold for laugh. And hold. And hold some more. Afterwards, Doric asked Meryl if that was a real term (or a “thing”), and Meryl said no, she’d just made it up. And Doric responded: “Then it’s the best line I ever wrote.” Not much made Doric prouder than helping along other playwrights, performers and musicians. He loved to hear how a new play sounded. Take reservations for the next reading, print out colorful programs and bring them over and fold them with whoever happened to be at the back of the theater.
He invited me along for the ride after TOSOS did a staged reading of my play, “The Audience.” He also found me a director when the one I’d been planning to use ended up in the hospital (not at my hand). We were at the Duplex, where TOSOS was presenting the first New York run of Elizabeth Whitney’s “Wonder Woman” cabaret, and I was directorless. He went across the room, and came back with Steven McElroy, who directed first the reading, then the eventual full production of “Rock the Line,” (which Doric also had a hand in renaming), at Emerging Artists Theatre.
As we got to know each other, Doric asked about the other plays I was seeing, what other writers he should know about, telling me about plays and playwrights he thought I should know, introducing me to people he thought I’d like and vice versa. He made sure Victor Bumbalo was familiar with my work, and one night I got a call from Victor, saying that I’d won the Robert Chesley Award for Emerging Playwright, and Megan Terry had won the award for, well, already emerged playwright. Doric presented me with the award, along with my other great friend and mentor, Tina Howe. (I dubbed them my fairy godfather and fairy godmother).
We used the prize money for a trip to Ireland, where I got to see the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival…but more on that later.
Doric, with the agreement of Mark Finley, the Artistic Director, and Barry Childs, the Producing Director (the heart and soul of modern TOSOS, who in 2001 rebirthed the company Doric founded), asked if I’d be interested in working with the Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwrights Project. I said I would, and he invited me to Zuni to talk about it. We ordered a round: A martini for Doric, a beer for Barry, a cranberry/seltzer for Mark, and I said: “Ooh! I’ll have a frozen mango margarita!” To which Doric replied: “Four gays and only one orders a sissy drink!”
That was the beginning of an official relationship that has lasted to this day, and one which has led to a helluva lot of fun, and hard work, and some very good productions, and opened the door for some plays to get productions from other companies. And of course, many more nights at the back of the room folding programs with “no talkback after” at Zuni.
Chesley/Chambers gave me a chance to develop my latent impresario side, and a chance to hear new work from some of my favorite playwrights, and a bunch of cohorts: directors, actors, designers, ready to jump in and make it happen.
Doric was there, front and center, at almost all the readings, shaking the playwright’s hand, taking the picture of the cast afterward, declaring people to be the newest members of TOSOS. Sometimes three or four times, if he didn’t remember them from the last reading they did. (He remembered the cute boys; he did not always remember the women. But he liked them each time and repeatedly made them members).
We read some plays I’d seen in Ireland (by Irish playwrights and American work I saw over there), and I mentioned to Doric I thought TOSOS should take a play to the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. That was the first time he jumped out of our car when it was moving (I forget what led him to leap out the second time…but he survived both departures). He hated the idea! We had no money for such things! And Ireland was a place where they hated the gays!
Doric was a great man, and great men have great flaws. The man had a temper. And he had a mouth on him, as my mother would say. And he had very firm beliefs about what gay people could expect in the theater, and from society. He did not believe that a straight organization would fund a gay theater (though nobody crowed louder than he did when the Dramatists Guild Fund began to make grants to Chesley/Chambers).
He also made it clear, when I first knew him, that he saw no need for gays to get married (followed by a dissertation on the Napoleonic Code). Then he realized that many of his friends and many in the next generations of gays who chose to be together in committed relationships didn’t have the same civil rights as married opposite-sex couples. When he realized that marriage equality was a civil rights issue, he got behind it (though never, he reminded us, because HE wanted to marry anyone). He blogged about it here. He loved the energy and activism of the demonstrations that sprang up here after Prop 8 was upheld. With his usual pessimism, didn’t think the Democrats would win the last election, but was thrilled when they did. (He was also visited by the Secret Service for the anti-Bush sign he had in his window just before the Republican Convention in ’08).
It took me a while to learn that sometimes Doric changed his mind and (on momentous occasions) even apologized. After TOSOS produced Chris Weikel’s “Pig Tale,” at the Wings Theater, Mark Finley had the idea of taking it over to Dublin. Mark and I had already been over with my play, “Some Are People,” and everyone in the EAT crew who went raved about how much fun they’d had, and how well they’d been treated. So we applied. And got in. And went to Ireland.
On the Dublin opening night of “Pig Tale,” festival director Brian Merriman gave a short curtain speech, talking about how proud he was that TOSOS had sent an entry, and how important its founder, Doric Wilson, was to gay theatre. His gracious words got back to Doric right away (we made damn sure of that), and by the end of the festival, Brian was on the TOSOS honorary board. And, at the close of this year’s festival (May 14), they renamed the International Cultural Dialogue Award the Doric Wilson Award.
Mark Finley went from strength to strength as the TOSOS artistic director…he and Barry were not afraid to disagree with Doric, set their own goals and make them happen. In the last few years, among our other activities, we produced Doric’s first play, “And He Made a Her,” at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, and sat in Mark’s living room for a reading of the first act of “The Boy Next Door,” Doric’s declared last play.
We also produced two shows in the New York Fringe in 2009 and '10, both by lesbian playwrights (one of them by FIVE lesbian playwrights), and Doric led the horn-tooting for the both of them, pulling strings and calling in old friends to get reviews, interviews, mentions online and in print. He brought people in, sat with them, and laughed LOUDLY at the funny parts.
He was tickled when we got the Lucille Lortel Theatre as our venue in last summer’s TOSOS production of The Five Lesbian Brothers’ “The Secretaries.” He frequently recounted the story of how he threw a drink in Lucille Lortel’s face when she made a racist remark (and that’s why he’s not on the Walk of Fame in front of the theater). We stood at the back of the house and put inserts in the programs, and talked about how he used to live across the street from the theater, and about some of his old times in the Village. (Somewhere in there, I heard the story of the chimpanzee, the men's room of a gay bar, and the Broadway director).
Since 2011 marked 10 years since the rebirth of TOSOS, Mark and Barry decided to make it a Doric season…we began to plan a “Doricpalooza,” and discussed, venues, plays, and casts, and which works.
It was just over two months ago that we hosted “Proud to Know You,” a tribute to Doric’s 50 years in the theater, at the Beechman. I blogged about that, and while I didn’t mean for it to have the air of a valedictory, it was a great summing up, and I’m glad we had one while the honoree could still be front-and-center and give a curtain speech.
After “I Wanna Destroy You,” we were headed into a reading of Doric’s “Street Theater” at The Center; there wasn’t really any question of canceling that (though we did put it back a week; there was too much personal business for his chosen family to take care of for us to finish the professional business of putting on a good reading).
But it’s definitely on, June 9, and I hope you’ll be there.
I'll be there, maybe folding programs, as I was one night at the Mitchell Room when the conversation got round to children. Doric commented that he probably had a child. That was news. He explained that two lesbians had approached him in his first couple years in New York, and asked if he would “donate” so they could have a baby together. He agreed and well, frankly, I didn’t ask for the details. He lost touch with the women, but said that over the years, he’d sometimes look at the faces of people on the street who seemed to be about the right age, and wonder if one of them was his child.
“Well, don’t look at me,” I replied. “This red hair’s out of a bottle.” He laughed and laughed. It’s a laugh I’ll always hear.