John Vaccaro and Ronald Tavel Build a Play-House

John Vaccaro and Ronald Tavel Build a Play-House

The Play-House of the Ridiculous initially developed out of a collaboration between John Vaccaro and Ronald Tavel. In 1965, they staged Tavel’s one-acts The Life of Juanita Castro and Shower at a little gallery on 89 East Tenth Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues. “That street was originally inhabited by de Kooning and Jackson Pollock and all those types of artists,” recalled Vaccaro. “It was an art gallery called the Coda, and we had sixty folding chairs and no theater lights.” Vaccaro also directed the Tavel plays Screen Test, Indira Gandhi’s Daring Device, and The Life of Lady Godiva. The transgender glam-punk rocker and Off-Off-Broadway performer Jayne County (then known as Wayne County) recalled seeing the latter show in 1967, not long after she arrived in New York. “My mind was blown, totally blown. It was a life-changer,” County said. “First of all, I was shocked and very embarrassed. It hadn’t been that long since I had just come from Georgia, so I really had a lot of that little farm girl in me. The scene that really got me was when Ruby Lynn Reyner was fucking a wooden horse, and I had never seen anything like that. It embarrassed me. But it was genius, of course, genius.” Tavel and Vaccaro first called themselves Theater of the Ridiculous, but after city officials harassed them for running an unlicensed theater they became the Play-House of the Ridiculous Repertory Club, a semantic sleight of hand that allowed them to evade the letter of the law.

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


Coda Gallery
89 E 10th St, New York, NY 10003