Vain Victory’s rehearsals at La MaMa’s practice space in the East Village were scheduled around I Love Lucy reruns, which Curtis watched twice each afternoon. (“I Love Lucy was a staple of Jackie’s life,” said Jayne County, who recalled that she would often act out scenes from the show in the apartment they shared.) These rehearsals started mid-afternoon and would sprawl into the evening—which made it accessible for people like Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner to drop by, along with others. “It was a gathering, and a continuation of an almost party-like atmosphere,” cast member Agosto Machado said. “From there, people could just stroll up to Max’s Kansas City, a little north of Union Square. As they say, ‘Location, location, location.’ Jackie would meet someone at Max’s Kansas City, and invite them, ‘Would you like to be in my play?’ ” Vain Victory morphed considerably as Jackie added and subtracted cast members over the course of the extended six-month rehearsal period. “During that time we departed from the original script,” Machado said, “because Jackie would see something on TV or heard something and said, ‘Oh, we’re going to do this.’ ” Tomlin recalled, “It was terribly imaginative, connected with all kinds of pop culture references that took on another angle the way Jackie used them.” Sometimes, lines from I Love Lucy would make their way into the play, or dialogue from an old film that Curtis saw on late-night television. “Jackie would put speed in her coffee,” County recalled, “and she’d sit there and write and write—sometimes outrageous things that made no sense at all, and sometimes it would be things from the telephone book, or things from TV Guide. She took a lot from TV Guide, because she loved old movies.” Curtis’s plays were among the first to heavily appropriate from popular culture, a pastiche-heavy style that would become associated with postmodernism (not that she thought of her plays in such highfalutin terms).
From Chapter 21 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore