Monday, September 15, 2008

HARVEY PERR, PLAYWRIGHT AND ACTOR, 69

Harvey Perr has written more than 16 plays, including “Rosebloom,” “Afternoon Tea” and “The Night Little Girl Blue Made Her Social Debut.” He has acted in off-off-Broadway shows and movies such as “Stranger than Paradise.”

I lived most of my childhood in Flatbush and East Flatbush, Brooklyn. My father was in prison from the time I was a year old, so I had a lot to write about. In 1955, I went to London and saw a production of “Waiting for Godot,” which really changed my life. I went to the New School for Social Research. I wrote a play about being a working-class Jew, and it was about my own life. It was called “Upstairs, Sleeping.”

Edward Albee was conducting a workshop at the Circle in the Square. I was about 23. When Albee started the Playwrights’ Unit, he asked me to join and that started my career.

In 1965, I was asked to go to Universal Studios for a screenwriting seminar. I went out there for two weeks. I came back to New York. They called and asked me if I wanted to come out there on a one-year contract. I had no choice. At the time, I had a wife and small daughter. We were poor. I was working in the credit office of a trucking company that had just gone bankrupt. I said, “Of course.” It was the last thing I wanted to do. I felt it was a mistake, but I went anyway. The only thing of mine that wound up on the screen was “Tobruk,” this terrible war movie with Rock Hudson. It was incoherent. I was called to rewrite some of that stuff.

When my career as a screenwriter went out the window after a year, I didn’t have enough money to take my family back to New York. I really became a playwright in Los Angeles. I was stuck there. I started doing my plays at the Mark Taper Forum. To make a living, I worked in the music business.

Ed Field thinks of me as a bohemian because he loves my writing and I’ve never made a penny. I have never compromised and I have never given it up. I never thought of myself as a bohemian. I thought of myself as a survivor. Maybe they are one and the same thing. I never knew where I fit in. I have been produced commercially, but I have never had a commercial success. It is no longer important to me if I become successful or accepted. I think it’s been a good life. I’ve written things that I wanted to write.

I didn’t really become politicized until the 1980s. The director Joe Chaikin really politicized me. He made me look at the world in a different way. I’m sort of sorry that I’ve become so political because it makes living in the world so difficult. I’ve been on this earth 67 years and there is a lot in America that I am unhappy with, but I could always live here. I now find it impossible to live here.

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