The Living Theater and Bardo Matrix

The Living Theater, popped up in my life during high school when I was apprenticing at the North Jersey Playhouse. My recollection is that some of the actors we worked with might have performed in Many Loves by William Carlos Williams. I do remember getting to know Ken Brown the author of The Brig, with whom I had heated conversations at Max’s Kansas City. Something about the theater attracted me but also kept me away. My arrival in Berlin, came a short time before the Living got there. The company had left the United States for what was to be a long period of wandering, creativity and debauchery. I was excited that they would be in Berlin and as I remember performing in a small second floor theater something like the place over a laundromat where La MaMa started on 2nd Avenue. With their arrival the Kurfurstendamm was alighted with all kinds of characters. I loved them especially LeRoy (Rain) House and Steven Ben Israel who shared the original script of Frankenstein with me, confiding that I seemed a person who really loved theater.

That was true, but this was a different stage of life, one of exploration stepping into the life that I missed in those years in Englewood. I was amidst friends who had been through a war of violence while I had lived through abuse and neglect. Friends, who were in Dresden during the bombing and returned to Berlin where they hungered and ate stray cats to survive. These were people I knew and loved. We did not need to question because we understood.

My home situation, was ever precarious, moving from place to place. One of the girls that I worked with at the Old Eden told me her sister needed a roommate. She was returning from taking acting classes in Munich to settle in Berlin. When it came time to meet Petra Vogt, I immediately loved her. She was intelligent, philosophical, and seemed to have a deep humane compassion. Petra knew of a place out on the border of Berlin on the grounds of a countryside bar. This was to be quite a schlep, on the bus maybe an hour or so. The room was really basic with two small beds and a coal stove for winter. I soon found out that also sleeping in my bed was a mouse whose squeaking noises I adjusted to hearing. Living with Petra was a joy, we had much in common and were compatible. Our schedules did not conflict, I had switched from working at the Old Eden, to the Eden Blue Note which was opened later and had a different and more heavy drinking clientele. My hours were from about 11 PM until well after dawn when the last person left. The club had entertainment, much of it pretty bad, what I most remember is a trio of heavy set women that wore mini-skirts and played gemachlich sentimental songs. Taking the bus home took over an hour so Petra and I rarely met. When we did she discussed the possibility of joining the Living Theater. I was kind of worried, because It was already evident that hard drugs were taking hold of many in the group. When she finally did decide to join, I was hard-pressed to say goodbye. Although, I found another roommate, it was not long for that place, and I was off to Paris. Petra, stayed with the theater for years and traveled extensively until she met the New York poet Ira Cohen. During the 1970’s they lived in Kathmandu and published poems in a broadsheet called Bardo Matrix. Once when Petra was back in New York, I saw her and she gave me a velvet brocade shirt that I treasured for years. She told me after years of staying away from hard drugs she was hooked, and yearned to be freed. We still loved each other, the connection had not faded. I tried to look her up to no avail, when I saw Ira back in New York he told me she had become a nun in the Brahma Kumaris. Petra was lost.

The remnants of the Living Theater were not, sadly one death came after another. Jenny Hecht, who I met in high school and a favorite of Judith Malina, overdosed. Word on the street was that her boyfriend left her body sit for days while he performed rituals trying to make her levitate. Then there was Marcia Herscovitz, we met when she moved to LA but I had known about her for years from the poet John Harriman. Oh Marcia, how lovely you were how fragile, far different from the visionary who worked and created at Art News. Your apartment was so beautiful and you want to start life anew but the drugs made you so weak and you were gone. I missed your letters and pleas, such loss. A hard time her death followed by Sammy, Florika, and Joey who killed himself in the bathtub, the best so needy. The living in my mind became synonymous with death, until I met Judith Malina years later in New York. The theater was housed in a synagogue in the East Village as gentrification began to take hold. She was wonderful, flowerlike, and immensely strong, the survivor, a winner. Judith just died, living at the Actors Fund Home, around the corner from my house of sorrow in Englewood, New Jersey. She was eighty-eight years-old, and seems to have bypassed every acolyte.