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Subject To Punishment: Julie Bovasso's Angelo's Wedding and the Politics of the Unproduced

  • Hillary Miller

The preview performance of Julie Bovasso’s Angelo's Wedding on 11 May 1985 imploded after an altercation between the playwright and the staff of Marshall Mason's Off-Broadway Circle Repertory. Bovasso, then almost fifty-five years old, attended the performance against the explicit wishes of the production team; the rehearsal period had been fraught. Suspecting unauthorized cuts, Bovasso took a seat in the audience, but then, midshow, confronted the backstage crew and demanded the chance to give the actors notes. The staff refused. At the start of the third act, Bovasso changed tactics: she alighted the stage and instructed the audience to leave the theatre. Members of the crew blocked her access to the actors, leading to a physical altercation, a 911 call, and, eventually, her forced eviction from the theatre.

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The author would like to thank the two anonymous readers who offered essential feedback on this article.

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1. Julie Bovasso, interview by Kenneth Turan, 11 May 1987, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts [hereinafter BRTC, NYPLPA].

2. Samuel G. Freedman, “Altercation May End Run at Circle Rep,” New York Times, 14 May 1985, C11.

3. Bovasso, quoted in Diana Maychick, “Yugoslavia Does the Cannes-Cannes,” New York Post, 21 May 1985, 65.

4. “Production Material—Angelo's Wedding—Julie Bovasso—1985,” Box 336, Folder 2, Circle Repertory Company Records, BRTC, NYPLPA. The play was nominated for a Blackburn Prize in 1980–1, and Bovasso had directed an earlier production at La Mama E.T.C. but pulled the play out of production one week before it was to open in October 1983. See Freedman. Little information exists about this La Mama production, but theatre listings advertising the La Mama show indicate that Bovasso both directed and acted in the production. See “Theater Companies,” New York Magazine 16.42 (24 October 1983): 138.

5. Helen Harvey, quoted in Dan Sullivan, “Playwright's ‘Wedding’ Turns Sour,” Los Angeles Times, 1 June 1985. Harvey suggested that the production could continue if Bovasso made Mason's desired cuts and Glenn's role was recast with John Turturro. See Michael Kuchwara, “Circle Repertory Company Cancels Final Production,” Associated Press, 21 May 1985.

6. See Sautman, Francesca Canadé, “Women of the Shadows: Italian American Women, Ethnicity and Racism in American Cinema,” Differentia 6–7 (1994): 219–46.

7. Rebecca Bauman uses this language to describe Kathleen Turner's character in John Huston's mob comedy, Prizzi's Honor. Bauman, Rebecca, “The Sexual Politics of Loyalty in John Huston's Prizzi's Honor, ” in Mafia Movies: A Reader, ed. Renga, Dana (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 118–25, at 122.

8. See Bottoms, Stephen J., Playing Underground: A Critical History of the 1960s Off-Off-Broadway Movement (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), esp. 25–8, 336–9.

9. Woloch, Alex, The One vs. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 125.

10. Woloch, 103.

11. Bovasso's students included John Cazale, John Cassini, Matty Selman, and June Stein. See, for example, Martin Denton, “Meet the Playwright: Matty Selman,” New York Theater Now, 4 February 2016,, accessed 19 January 2017.

12. Davis, Tracy C., “The Context Problem,” Theatre Survey 45.2 (2004): 203–9, at 203–4.

13. Ibid., 203, 206, 208.

14. Woloch, 34.

15. Bourdieu, Pierre, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, ed. Johnson, Randal (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 30; italics in the original.

16. Ibid., 31.

17. Bovasso, quoted in Hill, Holly, “How Do Playwrights Make a Living?Theatre Journal 33.4 (1981): 517–26, at 520.

18. Lawrence Kornfeld, in Shepard, Sam et al. , “American Experimental Theatre: Then and Now,” Performing Arts Journal 2.2 (1977): 1324 , at 16. Bovasso's rift with the members of the Living Theatre came in 1952 when she interrupted her own monologue—though not where Goodman intended an interruption—in Paul Goodman's Faustina to complain to the audience about the pretentious dialogue. See LeSueur, Joe, Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara: A Memoir (New York: Macmillan, 2004), 120; and Bottoms, 25–6.

19. For a detailed account of The Tempo, at 4 St. Mark's Place, see Bottoms, 26–8, 62–3.

20. Tallmer, Jerry, “Jottings by an Off-Broadway Critic,” Encore 42/10.2 (1963): 813 , at 9. See also Gruen, John, The Party's Over Now: Reminiscences of the Fifties—New York's Artists, Writers, Musicians, and Their Friends (New York: Viking Press, 1972), 91.

21. Lewis Funke, “Theatre: A Double Bill,” New York Times, 20 January 1960, 26.

22. The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia, ed. LaGumina, Salvatore J. et al. (New York: Routledge, 2003), 470.

23. Schemering, Christopher, The Soap Opera Encyclopedia (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988), 113. See also Richard F. Shepard, “TV Actress Quits Soap-Opera Role,” New York Times, 4 June 1960, 47.

24. Kish, Frances, “A Lesson in Love,” TV Radio Mirror 54.3 (1960): 42–3, 52–3, at 42.

25. Michael Feingold, “Julie Bovasso, 1930–1991,” Village Voice, 1 October 1991, 105. For more on this period of Bovasso's career, see my Drop Dead: Performance in Crisis, 1970s New York City (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2016), 27–8, 35–41, 47–8.

26. In this short film based on an Isaac Babel story, Bovasso plays a destitute egg farmer abandoned by Jesus. Judith Stein writes of its significance to the creative evolution of Pop Art painter and sculptor George Segal. See Stein, Judith E., Eye of the Sixties: Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016), 130–3.

27. John O'Connor, “Bovasso Territory,” Wall Street Journal, 10 December 1969, 22. See also William Glover, “The Moon Dreamers on Off-Broadway,” Los Angeles Times, 11 December 1969, H19.

28. Tallmer, Jerry, “A Life on the EdgeTheatre Week 5.10 (1991): 30–1, at 31. Isaac, Dan, “The Death of the Proscenium Stage,” Antioch Review 31.2 (Summer 1971): 235–53, at 241.

29. Kent, Assunta Bartolomucci, Maria Irene Fornes and Her Critics (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996), 114. For more on Fornés's involvement in the NYTS, see Cummings, Scott T., Maria Irene Fornes (New York: Routledge, 2013), 52–4.

30. In addition to Bovasso and Fornés, the NYTS would include (among others) Robert Heide, Terrence McNally, Rosalyn Drexler, Lanford Wilson, Leonard Melfi, Ken Bernard, Paul Foster, Robert Patrick, Jeff Weiss, Rochelle Owens, Murray Mednick, David Starkweather, Sam Shepard, and William Hoffman. See Robert Heide, “These Playwrights Did Get Into a Room,” New York Times, 15 October 1972, D6.

31. Maria Irene Fornés, quoted in Savran, David, In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1993), 60.

32. Mel Gussow, “New Group to Offer Plays by Women,” New York Times, 22 February 1972. A group of female playwrights (Bovasso, Fornés, Kennedy, Terry, Rosalyn Drexler, Rochelle Owens) established the WTC to emphasize the work of women in production. They intended to secure $400,000 for their first season, with the goal of finding a three-hundred-seat theatre that would allow them to produce six plays in rotation, each running for six weeks, regardless of reviews or reception.

33. Bovasso, interview by Turan, 11 May 1987, BRTC, NYPLPA.

34. Madison, William V., Madeline Kahn: Being the Music—A Life (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2015), 100.

35. Bovasso, quoted in Patricia Bosworth, “Joseph Papp at the Zenith,” New York Times, 25 November 1973, 21. See also Epstein, Helen, Joe Papp: An American Life (Boston: De Capo Press, 1996), 298; Turan, Kenneth and Papp, Joseph, Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told (New York: Anchor Books, 2010), 346; and Simonson, Robert, The Gentleman Press Agent: Fifty Years in the Theatrical Trenches with Merle (New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2010), 223–7.

36. Bovasso, interview by Turan, 11 May 1987, BRTC, NYPLPA.

37. See, for example, Julius Novick, “Papp Goes Boom at Beaumont,” Village Voice, 15 November 1973, 74.

38. Bovasso, interview by Turan, 11 May 1987, BRTC, NYPLPA.

39. Mason, Marshall W., “Introduction,” in Plays from the Circle Repertory Company (New York: Broadway Play Publishing, 1986), v–vii, at vi.

40. Bovasso, quoted in Paul Gardner, “The Man Who Keeps Circle Rep Rolling,” New York Times, 3 October 1976, 67.

41. Stage manager Ginny Martino's account of the 11 May 1985 preview performance mentions that Bovasso had expressed “her disapproval of Scott [Glenn] and Lynn [Cohen]” during the rehearsal period, “at one point by calling them ‘turkeys’ during a rehearsal.” The assistant stage manager, Emily Rymland, describes Bovasso as furious over a “dropped speech” by Scott Glenn during the preview performance, which led Bovasso to believe that there had been cuts made without her consent. “Production Material—Angelo's Wedding—Julie Bovasso—1985,” Box 336, Folder 2, Circle Repertory Company Records, BRTC, NYPLPA.

42. Meagher, Timothy J., “The Importance of Being Italian: Italian Americans in American Popular Culture, 1960s to 1990s,” in From Arrival to Incorporation: America and Its Immigrants in a Global Era, ed. Barkan, Elliott, Diner, Hasia, and Kraut, Alan M. (New York: New York University Press, 2008), 185213 , at 185.

43. Julie Bovasso, “A New Breed of New York Actor,” New York, 11 February 1974, 41–6, 51, 53.

44. “Script—Angelo's Wedding—Julie Bovasso—1983,” Box 43, Folder 1, Circle Repertory Company Records, BRTC, NYPLPA, I-1.

45. Ibid., I-4.

46. Ibid., I-21.

47. Bovasso, quoted in Maychick, 65.

48. De Stefano, George, “Italian Americans: Family Lies,” Film Comment 23.4 (1987): 22–4, 26, at 24–6.

49. Julie Bovasso, quoted in ibid., 26.

50. Welsch, Tricia, “Yoked Together by Violence: Prizzi's Honor as a Generic Hybrid,” in Gangster Film Reader, ed. Silver, Alain and Ursini, James (Pompton Plains, NJ: Limelight Editions, 2007), 195207 , at 197.

51. Barthes, Roland, “The Rhetoric of the Image,” in Image–Music–Text, trans. Heath, Stephen (New York: Hill & Wang, 1977), 3251 , at 33.

52. Welsch, 205.

53. “Production Material—Angelo's Wedding—Julie Bovasso—1985,” Box 336, Folder 2, Circle Repertory Company Records, BRTC, NYPLPA. In her account of the preview performance, Rymland claims that the production crew feared and expected a visit from Bovasso during the show, calling Bovasso “violent and crazy.” Ibid.

54. Bovasso, interview by Turan, 11 May 1987, BRTC, NYPLPA.

55. See Alba, Richard and Nee, Victor, Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003); Perlmann, Joel, Italians Then, Mexicans Now: Immigrant Origins and Second-Generation Progress, 1890 to 2000 (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2005).

56. Mel Gussow, “Women Write New Chapter in the Theater,” New York Times, 8 June 1979, C3.

57. See, e.g., Mel Gussow, “Women Playwrights Show New Strength,” New York Times, 15 February 1981, D4; Mel Gussow, “Women Playwrights: New Voices in the Theater,” New York Times, 1 May 1983, 22.

58. Hill, “How Do Playwrights”: 520–1.

59. Huston, Angelica, quoted in John Huston: Essays on a Restless Director, ed. Tracy, Tony and Flynn, Roddy (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010), 16.

60. She performed a similar role on the set of Moonstruck (1987), a film in which she was cast as Cher's aunt. Director Norman Jewison said, “Julie Bovasso was not only a brilliant choice for Rita Cappomaggi, she was also a professional acting coach, one who knew exactly how to teach a Brooklyn Italian accent. Cher got it in under two weeks!” Jewison, Norman, This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004), 254.

61. Bauman, 118; and see Welsch, 68–70.

62. Mervyn Rothstein, “Julie Bovasso, a Dramatist, 61; Active in Avant-Garde Theater,” New York Times, 19 September 1991.

63. Rayner, Alice, Ghosts: Death's Double and the Phenomena of Theatre (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), xiii.

64. Fuchs, Elinor, “Waiting for Recognition: An Aristotle for ‘Non-Aristotelian’ Drama,” Modern Drama 50.4 (2007): 532–44, at 536.

65. Ibid.

66. Rayner, xvi–xvii.

67. For a comprehensive archive of studies and reports on gender parity in the arts, entertainment, and media industries from 2002 to the present year, see Women in the Arts & Media Coalition, “Studies,”, accessed 19 January 2017.

The author would like to thank the two anonymous readers who offered essential feedback on this article.

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Theatre Survey
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