PRINT Summer 2007

Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman

I FIRST MET GUY IN 1975, in Venice, California, through Gus Foster. One evening we were going to a party with friends, stuffed into the backseat of a car. As we were driving around the Venice Circle, Guy asked if I would be interested in acting in a performance. That scene remains a vivid picture for me: “Of course I was interested! Extremely interested,” to borrow a couple of lines from his 1974 play Two Drawings. That invitation set me on a lifelong trajectory that has led to my present life in France.

The first performance we worked on together was At Sunrise . . . a Cry Was Heard, 1976, which explains the history of the “halved painting.” As with Guy’s other works, there is no central plot, but in this case a series of small exotic stories tantalize listeners into thinking that the mystery of the painting might in the end be explained. For me, it was the most difficult piece of any I performed for Guy: It is a long monologue, filled with non sequiturs, dates, lists of numbers, and geographic sites, and it features many characters.

In rehearsal, Guy did not explain his work. He let me experience it. He simply gave me a script and asked me to read it and memorize it. (I’m not sure, but I think our work together was the first of his memorized—as opposed to read—performances.) I would perform a section with no direction, and he would smile, or not. There never were negative comments. If he didn’t smile, I would do it again until he was pleased. It was a wonderful relationship, because I was creating my interpretation and adding to his vision. But it was nevertheless important to me, then as now, to say each word as he wrote it, whether or not it seemed correct or made sense. He wove together so many diverse languages and cultures as well as literary and artistic concepts that, for me, each word became a little crystal that needed to touch the surrounding ones exactly as he had placed it, in order to glitter in the way he intended.

Shortly after my first performance of At Sunrise . . . , Guy began rehearsals on his first multiact, multi-actor theater piece, Ethiopia, 1976. Here we had many props and three actors. Guy did give some stage directions, but he let us discover each prop and also play off one another, developing our relationships and movements using his words. Again there was no central plot but rather merely a series of familial interactions, yet a symbiotic relationship developed between the objects on the stage and the actors as they told their family stories, about travel or former residences.

After Ethiopia, I think Guy knew that he was destined to create complex theater pieces. We continued to perform readings from his books and “one object” pieces, which were combined into longer “theater pieces” such as Cigar, 1977, and Oh, a Bear!, 1978. These and other compositions like Going to the Market, 1975, Two Drawings, and My Father’s Diary, 1975, were still cryptic, visual works. But unlike At Sunrise . . . , they also had high emotion and excitement, featuring lost love, dangerous jungles, war, and death. They are fascinating to perform, and each time I am swallowed up by them.

And yet Guy himself was quiet, letting his work and his actors speak for him. Indeed, although he was reserved and a bit inscrutable, his work needed someone else in order to be fully realized—from his books with Larry Bell and Gus Foster to his plays directed by, for example, Yves Lefebvre at the Théâtre du Rond-Point in Paris—and people wanted to collaborate with him. In this regard, Guy was atypical in his vision and in his being: On the surface nothing seemed to make sense, but his work’s perfect order and beauty made you look for something else, made you accept unanswered questions and improbable situations and enjoy enigmatic language.

When he was ill, just before his death, he was beginning to conceive a new play for the Avignon Festival. The last words I heard him say were “Tant pis, I was so close.”

Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman is an advocate for disability rights who has interwoven art and activism throughout her lifelong involvement with art and nonprofit organizations.