Harry Koutoukas Casts Lisa Jane Persky

Harry Koutoukas Casts Lisa Jane Persky

In 1973, Harry Koutoukas waltzed up to Lisa Jane Persky on the street and said, “Darling, I’ve written a play for you. Rehearsal starts Sunday. The pay is twenty-five dollars a week. I’ll send someone to pick you up.” That Sunday, actor Benton Quin came by and walked Persky to La MaMa for a rehearsal of Grandmother Is in the Strawberry Patch. Quin was cast as Eunice, the Woman Next Door, and Persky was Cordelia Wells, the World’s Most Perfect Teenager; Grandmother was played by Koutoukas’s favorite actress, Mary Boylan, who had worked in film during the 1930s and 1940s, and television in the 1950s. The script was a rich source of drama and comedy, as was the playwright—who had another meltdown during the show’s opening night. About twenty minutes in, the actress who played Persky’s mother forgot her lines and froze. It felt like ten minutes, though it was probably only sixty seconds, but Koutoukas rose from the back of La MaMa and stormed down the aisle. He was trailed by large swaths of fabric, screaming, “Stop. Stop! This. Is. Professionalism?! Begin again! Start over!” And they did. Koutoukas replaced the actress with a woman he claimed was his therapist, which could have been a complete fiction—or not. Later in the 1970s, Persky ran into her friend Tomata du Plenty (a former Cockette who formed the punk band the Screamers in Los Angeles). “He knew me for a long time,” she recalled, “and he said, ‘I had been meaning to ask you. When Harry came down and freaked out, was that part of the play?’ And that was the first time it even occurred to me, like, ‘Oh, yeah. They didn’t know.’ ”

From Chapter 29 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


La MaMa (final location)
74 E 4th St, New York, NY 10003