A Day for George C. Wolfe

Rosie represents; Duquesnay recalls Danitra; Kushner channels Eve

If—God forbid—a bomb had been dropped on the Marriott Marquis on May 17, New York theater would have ceased to exist.

Everyone—actors from 89-year-old Paula Laurence to Rosie Perez, playwrights from John Guare to Stephen Adly Guirgis—turned out for the New Dramatists’ luncheon to honor George C. Wolfe, who is leaving the Public Theater to pursue a career in film.

Guirgis publicly thanked Wolfe for giving his “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” a home, and told me the two men are working on a Scott Rudin-produced movie script based on the documentary “Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story,” about the boxing champ who killed rival Benny “Kid” Paret in the ring, after Paret taunted him with the term “maricon,” Spanish for “faggot.”

“It should be a perfect fit for George as a director,” Guirgis said.

The luncheon itself was a long, wine-soaked, ebullient event which started when Manhattan Borough Pres. C. Virginia Fields announced that it was officially George C. Wolfe day in New York City and, to me, any such honor for an unapologetically gay black man is not only unbelievably rare but deeply special, however much I may have disagreed with certain artistic decisions of Wolfe’s in the past.

Playwright Tony Kushner gave one of his rapid-fire, brilliant speeches—which I somehow always find more inspiring than his plays—in which he thanked Wolfe for protecting him during the arduous writing of the second half of “Angels in America,” making it possible for him to write under all that expectant pressure. He satirically compared “his” George to George Bush:

“Although I’ve heard my George say, ‘I’m gonna kill that stupid motherfucker!’ as far as I know, he hasn’t actually killed anyone, unlike our lord high executioner of Texas,” Kushner said.

Kushner mentioned that this was maybe the fifth farewell event he’s attended for Wolfe, and, at the last one, after all the speeches were exhausted, Rosie Perez got up and, “in her brilliant way,” said, “I just want to say to George, thanks for taking care of the colored people,” and Kushner subsequently referred to Wolfe’s New Dramatists’ Award as the “Thanks For Taking Care Of The Colored People” award.”

Borrowing joyously from Eve Harrington in “All About Eve,” Kushner added, “Although George is going to Hollywood, do not think for a moment that he is leaving you. How could he? For his heart is here in the theater—and three thousand miles are too far to be away from one’s heart.”

Wolfe gave an extemporaneous acceptance speech, in which he professed to be overwhelmed, “but in keeping with George C. Wolfe Day, I have a proclamation. All theater in New York City will be free today. Jeffrey Wright will be on time for his next event. Funding for the arts is beyond the roof and every single artist gets to live and be happy and free to create his work.”

Wolfe added, “New Dramatists is an important organization because it is about writers at a time when power structures seem to be systematically trying to take away outlets of possibility and make us attack and blame and judge each other. It’s very important that all artists hold on to their sense of play, defiance and reckless, ferocious smashing of that which is authority. If we accepted the rules, we wouldn’t have accomplished anything, so do everything you possibly can to support these astonishing creatures called writers. In their work is the key to survival, a sense of magic and the ability to lift spirits. That’s what theater does, and, although I’m going off to Hollywood, thank you, Tony Kushner, for stealing my ‘All About Eve’ speech.”

Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com.

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