Larry Kornfeld Joins Judson Poets’ Theatre

Larry Kornfeld Joins Judson Poets’ Theatre

Larry Kornfeld left the Living Theatre in 1961 to join Judson Poets’ Theatre. He had been hanging out at the Cedar Tavern, one of his regular Village haunts, when poet Joel Oppenheimer approached him about directing his play at Judson. Oppenheimer had attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina during the early 1950s, crossing paths with Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham. Back in New York, the Black Mountain group grew closer while spending time at the Living Theatre—where the interdisciplinary Monday Night Series was held and Cage and Cunningham also had a studio. This environment inspired Oppenheimer to write a satirical play, The Great American Desert, which Kornfeld agreed to direct despite his concerns about censorship. (One character exclaims, “Damn this fuckin’ desert anyhow. All this sweat over water, goddamn when I was a boy back home in Illinois they used to talk about the plains.”) Kornfeld told him, “Joel, it’s a church. You’ve got ‘fuck’ all over the script, and ‘fuck’ is not even said in the theater these days.” Oppenheimer assured him, “Oh, no. The church board read it, and they approved. They gave me their word that they will not interfere.” The church did not interfere, even though the play contained the type of language that caused Lenny Bruce to be arrested for obscenity three years later when the comedian performed his material just two blocks away at Café Au Go Go, in 1964. “We were very ethical, and inevitably broke the law,” Kornfeld said. “There was a lot by cursing, nude performances, but nothing salacious—like Yvonne Rainer dancing with Bob Morris naked on stage at the church.”

From Chapter 9 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Cedar Tavern
85 University Pl, New York, NY 10003