Volume 76, Number 21 | October 11 - 17, 2006

Judith Malina and Hanon Reznikov of the Living Theater.

The Living Theater will live again, on Clinton St.

By Jerry Tallmer

The Living Theater lives!

In going on 60 years it has died the death of a thousand cuts over and over and over again, but the ultra-antiestablishmentarian super-avant-garde theater company brought forth by Julian Beck and Judith Malina, husband and wife, in an artist’s studio on Wooster St. “in 1940-something” has once again found a new home — is constructing a new home — in the basement of a building that’s nearing completion at 21 Clinton St., between Houston and Stanton Sts.

Julian Beck died at 60 in September 1985. The Living Theater for more than a decade now has been sustained by Judith Malina and Hanon Reznikov, the tall, no less impassioned writer/director some years her junior whom she married three years after the loss of Julian.

“We’re supposed to move in at Clinton Street sometime in October or November,” said Ms. Malina the other morning. “And will open in January with ‘The Brig’” — the tough, shocking 1963-’64 play by Kenneth H. Brown about the harsh mistreatment of U.S. Marines in a Marines brig, or jail, that was on the boards when the feds busted the Living Theater, then at Sixth Ave. and 14th St., for tax delinquencies back then.

“The [Clinton Street] lease was signed two or three weeks ago. It’s a 10-year lease. Some people — my lawyer — think I’m cheeky to sign a 10-year lease in my 80th year,” said the indefatigable Judith Malina, who, the daughter of Rabbi Max Malina and would-be actress Roselle Zamora Malina, was born in Kiel, Germany — “a Prussian submarine base,” Judith notes — on June 4, 1926. “I hope to be entering my 90th year when the lease [has to be renewed].”

Venues of the Living Theater as ticked off by her, in rough memory:

“Wooster Street, an artist’s studio which we were going to take over for our plays, but we were very naïve at the time and advertised for actors in the Daily News, so the police squelched that, thinking we were running a brothel.

“Then theater-in-a-room at Julian’s parents’ apartment at 789 West End Avenue. There, we did Brecht and Lorca and [Gertrude] Stein and [Paul] Goodman — if that doesn’t tell you what we were.”

(She and Julian later traded that apartment for her parents’ West End Avenue apartment, and it was this longtime stronghold — the site of many colorful New Year’s Eve parties — which she and Hanon Reznikov sold a few years ago to acquire the cash with which to pay for new premises for the Living Theater. Meanwhile she and Hanon have been making do in a one-room apartment in the West 50s.)

“Then we went to the Cherry Lane Theater in December 1951. We [she and Julian] considered that our official opening date. (They left there for one reason and another, not least because of the spear with which she drove from the premises an inspecting fireman — “a spear Julian made from bamboo for John Ashbery’s ‘The Heroes.’ ”)

“Then a loft at 100th Street and Broadway. Then 14th Street” — in the great, fecund 1950s and ’60s era of their productions of William Carlos Williams, Bertolt Brecht, Jack Gelber’s “The Connection,” Kenneth Brown’s “The Brig,” etc., etc.

Then many places abroad, as a theater-in-exile.

Then back in New York for a famous short stand at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Then, after Julian’s death, a tiny storefront on E. Third St. — partial subject of a book Reznikov is now writing, “Living on 3rd Street.”

And then — soon — Clinton St.

“We’re opening with ‘The Brig’ because that’s what people are talking about right now — abuses inside military prisons. Which means abuses inside the whole social structure. The president says we gotta have torture — but no electrodes, please, only the dehumanization of human beings.”

It isn’t the only thing military that the Living Theater is against. Judith and Hanon and a number of other people, including grandson Robin Beck, 28, have conducted antiwar theater off and on for quite some time now, in front of the Times Square recruiting station.

“We interact with a 7-minute film loop on a huge screen there that’s advertising for all four branches of the military,” said Reznikov.

Do you ever run into difficulty?

“I deal with the cops,” said Judith. “In 12 years of street plays against the death penalty, I dealt with plenty of cops.”

The author of two books of memoirs — “The Enormous Despair” (Random House, 1972) and “The Diaries of Judith Malina: 1947-1957” (Grove, 1984) — she’s now at work on a big new manuscript about Erwin Piscator, founder/director of the Dramatic Workshop at the New School, where she and everybody else in the theater of the young were baptized, so to speak, in the 1940s and ’50s.

Julian, she says, never took classes there — “but he hung out with me, and as far as I’m concerned, he was Piscator’s best student.”

How had she and Julian first met? Here’s how:

“Remember [playwright] William Marchant? We called him Gogo. I was standing on 42nd Street in front of Genius, Inc., an actors’ club. I was a very young 17, and thought every woman with long eyelashes was an actress. I had a pocketful of penny chocolates.

“Along came this beautiful blond boy who said his name was Gogo. He said: ‘I’m so hungry, please give me some of you chocolates.’ I said: ‘I have a dollar, I’ll take you to the Automat.’ At the Automat he said: ‘I’m so grateful, I want to introduce you to the most wonderful young man, the most intelligent young man, the most poetic young man, the handsomest young man, the richest young man. I’ll call him up right now. You got a nickel?’

“I gave him a nickel, and he made the phone call, and Julian came down to 42nd Street with a halo around his head, and we spent the whole night together, in Times Square, and at the movies, and in a coffee shop, and then home — so it was a set deal.”

The Living Theater on Clinton St. — which is a southbound extension of Avenue B — plans to have one day every week when it’s “pay what you can.” Other tentative plans call for living repertory Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings plus Sunday afternoons, with Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday evenings given over to poetry readings, music, avant-garde dance, films and videos.

“I’ve had five theaters taken away from me in New York City by the authorities,” said Judith Malina. “I want this one to be kosher and legal, so that won’t happen again.”

If you want to learn more and are on the ’Net, go to www.livingtheatre.org (theatre — not theater). A pocketful of penny chocolates might get you tossed, excitingly, in “The Brig.”

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