Arthur Laurents Will Not Go Quietly

3.16.2010

By Mickey Rapkin

Colin Powell enacted 'don't ask, don't tell,' and Clinton signed it into law.
I think Colin Powell is one of the most shameful figures in American history. He is the man who is most responsible -- next to Bush -- for getting us into Iraq. Presenting what he must have known was false at the U.N. Now he's suddenly a Democrat. I think any gay, Jew, or black who is a Republican is for one reason: They want so much to belong.

Much of your writing has been political. But you haven't been as involved in, say, the Human Rights Campaign. Was that a conscious choice to let your work speak for itself?
I give money to Lambda [Legal], which I really believe in. But the Human Rights Campaign? When La Cage came out, we were attacked for being mealymouthed and all that. And the next year we were honored at the HRC awards. Typical of me, I told the audience what I thought of them. Tom and I have a foundation. We want to give a prize to the best new play by an American on a social theme. To me, that's doing more than a lot of talk.

You mentioned La Cage aux Folles. You directed the original. The show is coming back to Broadway in a stripped-down production that originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London's hot theater.
It's in vogue now, this so-called darker side of everything, which I think is just muddy. And cheap. Literally, in both meanings of the word. I saw it in London. I thought the production was homophobic.

Really?
There's a line in it about Albin, [the main attraction at the nightclub]. The boy says, 'How can I introduce him to my fianc's parents the way he dresses?' Well, in London he wore a dress and a wig in private life. In New York, he wore a suit with piping. It was effeminate, but this was out and out camp. I didn't see Douglas Hodge, who is a very good actor. But I saw him on YouTube, and he can't sing. And he wore a dress like it belonged to a maiden aunt.

Tell me about the opening night of La Cage in 1983. It was a $4 million musical about two gay men at the height of Reagan's America.
The producer was Alan Carr, who was a cokehead. And he was from the music world. He did the Village People. He did Grease, the movie. For the La Cage opening night party he recreated St. Tropez. I thought they'd gone mad. All the money! Everybody gussied up beyond belief! Fritz Holt was one of the producers. The one thing I remember about that night is Tom saying to me, 'Fritz Holt, he's got swollen glands.' Tom noticed. And we knew he had AIDS. It wasn't called AIDS. But Fritz had it. I don't like opening night parties. I wanted to get out of there anyway. But yes, also because I cared about Fritz. Being gay, living in the West Village, it was terrible because this was really the gay center. And then overnight it was decimated by AIDS.

Let's get in a few quick hits. You famously referred to Broadway as 'Chernobyl.' Have you changed your mind?
No. I dislike Broadway intensely. On Broadway, everybody has an agenda. The excellence of the production is not high on the list. It's money, it's their name -- you've got nine million producers who are not producers.

Will you see Julie Taymor's Spider-Man?
I wouldn't go to see Spider-Man.

Your 2008 production of Gypsy started at City Center -- whose offices you called the 'ninth circle of hell.' How do you feel about the upcoming City Center Encores production of your play, Anyone Can Whistle?
They're doing some cockamamie version of it. I'm just rehearsing how I can say, 'No comment.'

You've directed Gypsy with Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, and Patti LuPone. Pick your favorite Rose.
Patti.

Why not take a second to think about it?
I shouldn't have said I like Patti best because they'll get pissed off. But I do.

Why didn't you go to the Tony Awards last year, when West Side was up for best revival?
I never want to go. Because I think it emphasizes something that should not be emphasized. I don't believe in prizes.

You wrote The Way We Were. Why did you call director Sydney Pollack an asshole?
He said to me, 'Everybody in Hollywood is just amazed at you.' I said, 'Why?' He said, 'Well, this is the best love story they've read in years, and they don't know how this homosexual could write it.' You wonder how I feel about the late Mr. Pollack? What else do you say but he's an asshole, dead or alive.

Speaking of movies: Did you see Rob Marshall's Nine?
Yes.

What did you think?
I didn't.

Did you see A Single Man? You knew Isherwood, yes?
The book has a man sitting on a toilet ruminating. The film has a man sitting on a toilet that is a shot for Vanity Fair. That sums it up, to me.

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