I made my theatrical debut at La Mama in a Sam Shepherd play called “Melodrama Play.” It’s little known, and I’ve never seen another production of it. The late genius actor/director Seth Allen convinced Ellen Stewart, La Mama herself, to let him have his own company of actors at La Mama, in the heady early ’70s and he called it The Star Car. I was working the box-office at the time and became quite the La Mama fixture for a while.
Ellen was a legend even then. She had practically jump-started the Off-Off Broadway movement herself, with her Café La Mama in the ’60s. And Sam Shepherd was a main part of her early success. She adored him. He was one of her “babies.” And Seth Allen was, too.
Sam Shepherd was already a produced star and considered a major American playwright by the time I landed in “Melodrama Play” in 1971. With Seth Allen directing. It was as campy as all hell, and two go-go dancers in cages onstage and in and above the audience added to this outre effect ,and I sure did as Cisco, a hippie with my hair in a huge red-orange ‘fro ( I had hair then ). I was supposed to, per Seth’s direction giggle and laugh all the time. And yes, I was also in hot-pants, cut off jeans, and a skinny T-shirt. There’s a picture of this somewhere and I’ll publish it some day.
It was the last thing in the world, I think, that Sam expected to see his play done like – this a transgender mini-extravaganza.
Seth had a history with it. He had toured Europe with La Mama E.T.C. in a VAN that was called “the star car” by its inhabitants, and I think Melodrama Play was one of the plays they did, hence Seth’s affection for it.
It was thrilling to do, and I remember meeting the EXTREMELY handsome young playwright at the cast party after opening night, and he looked at me a bit bewildered. He didn’t know what to say, initially. I don’t think he ever thought of this character as gay, but I certainly played it that way, and the audience loved it. It was quite the debut.
And Sam just looked at me with this perplexed expression and after a pause, said, “Good.”