Ellen Stewart was open to anything, including a play with no onstage actors: just two Ping-Pong balls swinging back and forth. Paul Foster wrote Balls after he had an argument with some La MaMa actors, and as he was stomping and huffing about, he thought, That does it! What I need is a play without actors! The show’s two main characters—two swinging balls—were voiced from offstage over a loudspeaker, and all the audience could see was the white spheres moving in and out of their own shadows. It was pure white against pure black, an empty world in which the two deceased protagonists played ball and talked. “They’re in a little cemetery by the sea,” Foster explained, “and a storm is threatening to engulf their graves. But the balls didn’t change tempo, they were always slowly, slowly just going back and forth. You’re left with the feeling of great loneliness: ‘Well, if we can’t play ball, what the hell are we going to do with the rest of eternity?’ ”

From Chapter 16 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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