The word’s just come down to me that that twentieth century Titan, Judith Malina has joined her husbands Julian Beck and Hanon Reznikov…wherever they are. Unavoidably, I’m thinking of the Living Theatre’s theatrical adaptation of Poe’s Eureka today. Wherever they are, it is undoubtedly cosmic.
It is no exaggeration to call her the mother of the entire off-off-Broadway movement, and it started surprisingly early. The torch of the old avant-garde (Europe in the early 20th century) was passed to her by her mentor Erwin Piscator in 1945. Two years later she founded the Living with Beck — as early as THAT. After introducing intrinsically provincial backward Americans to the likes of Pirandello and Gertrude Stein, they began to develop ground breaking new works, legendary productions like Jack Gelber’s The Connection, The Brig, and Paradise Now. The counterculture of the ’60s largely steered a course charted by Le Living; their influence was so great, most people in America who were touched by it never knew where it emanated from, for it was delivered by way of devotees like Jim Morrison of the Doors. Although occasionally Malina reached the wider public directly, as when she appeared in the films Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Radio Days (1987), Enemies: A Love Story (1989), Awakenings (1990) and The Addams Family (1991).
The Becks were anarchists. They broke many a law, and so it was inevitable that they would be on the run at some point. Their long exile in Europe was because they never paid taxes. More power to ya on that score, I say!
In 2007, the 80 year old Malina surprised everyone by returning and opening a new space on Clinton Street (now C.O.W.). I got the thrill of a lifetime when I got to spend a few hours with her and Resnikov at their home atop the theatre, interviewing them for the Village Voice. That piece is here. This’ll gross you out, but I thought the old dame was pretty sexy…I think she was pouring on the charm for the press, just as she had done for over half a century. Sadly Resnikov died shortly after that, before his adaptation of Eureka made it to the boards. I was fortunate to catch that show and reviewed it for the Voice as well.
I knew that she was failing in recent years and had been expecting this news for some time. Still it’s sad. And sobering. Because when the great old ones like her go, the only links to the past are you and me. Are we up to it?