Magazine article American Theatre

Fool for Sam

Magazine article American Theatre

Fool for Sam

Article excerpt

NEW YORK CITY: In 1979 George Ferencz had been teaching and directing at Columbia University when he hit upon an ingenious thought. What if the entire scenario of Sam Shepard's The Tooth of Crime, not only the final showdown, were staged as a rock concert, with a live band underneath a raked platform? A diabolical agon between the aging rocker Hoss and the fast-rising challenger Crow, Crime was a rock-inflected drama that originated as a Richard Schechner-guided environmental spectacle in 1972 at the Performing Garage on Wooster Street. When given a shot at directing Crime in a professional theatre (after trying it out at Columbia), Ferencz put the idea into action.

The result, as they say, brought the house down. At Syracuse Stage, where it premiered, Ferencz's hard-driving Crime raised a ruckus--and then became a sensation. "We were too loud and too vulgar when the show opened," he recalls. "From what I understand, Syracuse had the largest number of walk-outs. Subscribers stormed out. The reviewers were confused." Then busloads of college kids turned up--more than once, dressed up in punk-rocker costumes. That's when Crime slayed 'em. "It was a gigantic hit," Ferencz says. "The local papers published editorials, pro and con, about what is the meaning of art. Our show set records for attendance. In many ways, it changed the theatre forever--it had such an impact on Syracuse Stage's board."

It also had an impact on Ellen Stewart, who promptly transferred Crime, which starred Ray Wise and Raul Aranas, to the Annex at La MaMa ETC. …

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