Macho Americano at Theatre Genesis

Macho Americano at Theatre Genesis

Sam Shepard lived in the Lower East Side at the time with his roommate, Charlie Mingus Jr., a painter and the son of jazz legend Charles Mingus. Shepard was also a musician who often incorporated rock ’n’ roll in his plays and, in 1966, he joined the Holy Modal Rounders as their drummer (which is how he later met Patti Smith, with whom he cowrote the play Cowboy Mouth). Shepard and Mingus lived in a condemned cold-water apartment on Avenue C, past the Old Reliable. The two young men saw it as an urban frontier, and would act out “cowboys and Indians” games on the streets. These sorts of scenarios—along with tales of revolutionary street-fighting men and rough-and-tumble masculinity—made their way into several of Shepard’s early plays. Theatre Genesis’s bare-bones, no-nonsense space was an ideal setting for the butch plays that Shepard, Anthony Barsha, and their peers wrote. “Genesis was distinguished by being much more heterosexual than any of the other places,” said Robert Patrick. “Sam Shepherd, Murray Mednick—a lot of their plays had references to cowboy movies, and westerns, and things like that.” Their shows veered toward what one reviewer dubbed “Macho Americano,” and they thought of themselves as the “Hells Angels of the Off-Off-Broadway scene,” as Barsha put it. “Off-Off-Broadway started with the gays at Cino, so it was pretty much a gay scene,” he observed. “Ralph Cook and Leonard Melfi, Kevin O’Connor, Sam Shepard, myself, Murray Mednick, and Walter Hadler—we’re all straight guys. It was that kind of a scene. A lot of pot, and a lot of women, and a lot of messing around in that area, so Genesis definitely had that reputation, and rightly so.”

From Chapter 14 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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