Doric Wilson, 1962, at the Caffe Cino, courtesy doricwilson.com
Doric Wilson died last Saturday, May 7, at the age of 72. The exact time and cause is at the present unknown, but he died in his apartment at roughly the same time as a new play by Joshua Conkel called “I’m Gonna Destroy You” was being read by TOSOS II, Doric’s own glbt theatre enterprise, as part of the Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwrights Project. I know: this last sentence was a mouthful, but it seems like every word in it (Bob Chesley, a wonderful, early HIV-killed friend of mine; Jane Chambers: “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove”; TOSOS—The Other Side of Silence, Doric’s bang-up of a name) brings back some part of Lost Gay New York to me, and now Doric Wilson is definitely a piece of it. Lost for us, or maybe not. Because as a playwright you live on, and Doric will.
He was an amazing character: delightful, funny as hell, completely irreverent, crusty, difficult at times, but incredibly sweet and affectionate. I’d known him for so long that I can’t remember not knowing him. I think we met sometime during the Gay Activists Alliance era—or possibly even earlier when I’m sure I panted after him. He was a tall, lean, gorgeously handsome red head, and he moved beautifully like a dancer. Years later, after he had gone through health problems and gained a lot of weight and lost the red hair I kept wanting to see that young man inside him. I knew he was there, and both Doric and I missed him. But he was always bubbling with life and discovering new things, which is what keeps us moving, changing, and young inside. He loved opera, all forms of theatre (including tending bar, one of the great forms of theatre and acting), plays and writing them, and keeping gay theater alive in New York (and elsewhere).
When I say “gay theater,” I mean, like, gay theater with no apologies. Because gay theater is different from, say, “Angels in America” or the next episode of Glee when Curt still doesn’t get to kiss his cute boyfriend. Doric, OK, was one of the inventors of gay theatre, when it was crazy, disruptive, transgressive, shocking, tacky, funny, and absolutely wrap-your-lips-around-it lovable.
Hysterical. Delightful. Ridiculous.
We used to love gay theater. We went constantly to it. We used to eat it, dream about it. Gay theater was the stuff you did downtown: Joe and Caffe Cino; the genius of Charles Ludlam (and Everett Quinton); the Hot Peaches at the Second Avenue Theatre, an old Yiddish theatre turned drop-dead fabulous; the explosions of John Vaccaro; the wondrous Tavel brothers; Jackie Curtis, Harvey Fierstein, Candy Darling, Ondine, Holly Woodlawn, and the saintly Marsha P. Johnson; Jeff Weiss (who raised the hair on the back of my neck); Robert Heide, and John Gillman (in “Moon,” a show that at 19 took my breath away); Harry Koutoukas in “Big Hotel”; Lanford Wilson (“Madness of Lady Bright,” before he hit Broadway); Robert Patrick and his boys; Agosto Machado (as Madame Wu!); and too many, too many more, mostly gone—and Doric.
Doric was smart. His plays had a kind of classical elegance to them; they were tight in the middle of a lot of druggy mayhem (which we loved also, because when you’re young and living downtown on no money, druggy mayhem is a delight). Druggy mayhem is what takes over after 2 A.M. when you’re hanging around Avenue B, having left the old Club Baths, which is now Lucky Cheng’s, a pseudo Chinese club for tourists with drag-queen hostesses. But Doric, who was into leather and S & M way before Giorgio Armani put his money into it, injected rigor and heat into gay theatre. In plays like “A Perfect Relationship” and “Now She Dances,” he gave downtown theater an Oscar Wildean tension caught in a cockring. He was smart, and not at all parochial, like a lot of downtown queer theatre artists were who did a lot of rib nudging because they were speaking directly to us, but no further. So Doric’s plays got done a lot, all over the place—on the West Coast, in Europe. He was always on the precipice of discovering something new—a new take off, a new dive into tomorrow. He was excited by that. He would tell me how disappointed he was looking in the mirror. Getting older was horrible, but that he was getting discovered every day by another generation of queer theatre gourmets, who wanted to eat the stuff just like we did. They wanted to live on it, they wanted to exist in it and not exist without it. He loved them. He was crazy about them: Doric—
we’ll miss you, our sweet red-headed prince.