Playwright reflects on highs, lows in personal, professional life


Let's see who the real local theater buffs are: How many of you recognize the name Jerry Crawford?

The Michigan resident is well-known around these parts for his longtime professorship at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. During his nearly 34 years there (up until the mid- 1990s), he founded the Master of Fine Arts playwriting program and put his stamp on the theater department as director, writer, teacher, administrator and frequent mentor.

The 78-year-old Iowa native's "Past Light: A Spirit Marooned" is an easy, fun, blunt read about his life and his highs and lows in academia and the professional world.

Sample gems:

"The young actress Jane Hamilton ... was a talented, bright, straight A student ... who flew off to London to start her professional career. However, she found the challenges, as she expected, difficult and often unjust. ... She finally decided enough was enough. The two things she loved most in life were acting and sex. She decided to become an actress in X-rated films." More details follow. The woman winds up being porn celebrity Veronica Hart, who, ironically, played a judge in the mainstream "Boogie Nights."

Crawford recounts his unhappy experience in a New York backers' reading of his script "LBJ, The Last President." The director said he wanted to approach George C. Scott for the lead . But then the director demanded that Crawford cut the large cast down to six characters. "In our stunned silence," Crawford writes, "he went on to name the roles I could retain. ... I said that I was willing to tighten some, even cut a role or two, but I would be damned if I would take it to just six roles. ... We never heard from him again."

Moral? "A play is not a novel that just goes to a publisher and editor. If one writes plays and wishes to see them done on stage, one must collaborate. However, as the French and Nazis proved at times, collaboration can be a terrible thing. One must hold to one's vision, one's integrity, if one is to be loyal to the work; albeit the cost can considerable for doing so."

Another script did make it to the boards ("The Auction Tomorrow"), and although it got some good notices, Crawford mentions only those who were not amused.

"The great (Walter Kerr) came, watched, said nothing, and left. He never wrote a thing about the play or the production.

"(We) made the mistake of taking (New York Post critic) Clive Barnes to dinner before the show where he had several cocktails. I remember seeing him doze off now and then, his shoulders covered with unseemly dandruff. Of course, my play was blasted by Barnes. In the New York Times the infamous Richard Eder wrote that the play was a 'box of poison cornflakes. The play and its author should be taken back to Iowa and buried.' "

Ouch.

Crawford offers an inside view of UNLV department politics, as well as a glimpse of the inner-workings of the Utah Shakespeare Festival (where Crawford's 15-year tenure as a celebrated discussion leader came to an unhappy end).

Certainly not a book for everyone, but "Past Light" deserves a place in Vegas history - poisoned cornflakes and all.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@ aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

 

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