MADRIGAL OF WAR
I think perhaps that Madrigal of War is my favorite of all the plays. I wrote it in a sudden fit of inspiration one summer on Nantucket. It was right after the production of The Saintliness of Margery Kempe, at The Poet’s Theatre in Cambridge and before the production in New York. I had just won a five thousand dollar Rockefeller Grant for playwriting. I felt no pressure to write a conventional work.
By this time, Catharine Huntington and I had become fast friends, and I wrote it with her in mind for the role of Misia Sert. I am relieved now that because of Molly Howe’s edict against the play, Catharine never attempted to perform the role. She was in her eighties, and she could never have remembered her lines.
Catharine Huntington was one of the most enchanting human beings I have ever known. She was a great beauty, exquisite, a true Boston Brahmin. She didn’t believe in marriage. When they were young, she and her brother, Constant, made a vow that they would never wed, and always live together. Catharine never forgave Constant for breaking that vow.
She was an ardent supporter of Sacco and Vanzetti. During World War II, she worked as a drill operator in a shipyard near Boston. She won a prize for having the neatest locker.
I remember one rainy night, she and I encountered two young men brawling in the streets. Catharine was soon in the thick of the fray. “Stop it! Stop it!” she commanded, brandishing her umbrella. “We’re not brutes! We’re not animals!”
She had a will of iron, and yet she was often silly, with a tinkling laugh.
When I last saw her, in a nursing home outside of Boston, she could no longer speak. Harsh gurgling sounds came from her throat. But I could tell from her eyes that she recognized me.
My house in Vinalhaven is now owned by her great nephew Thomas Urquhart, and his wife Amy.
When I wrote Madrigal of War, I lived in a house on the bluffs in Siasconset, in Nantucket, which was owned by my brother’s in-laws. I could always vaguely hear the roar of the surf outside of my bedroom window.
My sole companions were Eleanor Church, my brother’s Mother-in-law, and the maid, Mary. Eleanor was most often drunk – she subsisted on a diet of corn flakes and alcohol. One night, she threw open the door of my bedroom around two o’clock in the morning. I could see her in silhouette, her dyed blonde hair frazzled by the light. “I know about you,” she said. “People say that I am bad, but you, you’re a hundred times worse.”
I didn’t know what she was babbling about, but I feared it was my homosexuality. Her behavior was an omen of what was to come from Molly Howe, the chairman of the board for The Poet’s Theatre.
The production of Madrigal of War at The Living Theatre was a sheer delight. I loved James Waring, and I was honored to work with him on the show. The physical production was stunning.
Best of all was Merce Cunningham’s reaction. Merce was a harsh critic. I felt I had entered a realm of theatre where my play could be valued on the same level as his own choreography. I was saddened that Madrigal of War was only performed once. But I console myself with the idea that was what I intended for the show. The actors destroy the scenery throughout the course of the performance.
There have been no changes in Madrigal of War. It is exactly as I wrote it, and as it was performed at The Living Theatre, for one night, November 9, 1960
See note on Red Eye of Love: The Musical