Thursday, August 11, 2005

Thinking About Joe Cino

I am delighted to join in celebrating Wendell Stone's book about the Caffé Cino. He sent me pieces of it in draft form, and it was wonderful to learn more about Joe Cino and his colorful family and background. Joe was a unique, inspiringly spirited person, and he played a crucial role in my life. I first went to the Caffé Cino about 1962. I was ostensibly there as a critic, reviewing plays for The Village Voice. But it quickly became more personal than that. The atmosphere of the cafe was powerfully seductive, and it is no secret that I was especially drawn to Johnny Dodd, the waiter and sometime light man. I had only been in New York a few years and had only just moved to the Village. The Cino embodied a wild bohemian disregard for convention that I did not yet know was possible. Johnny told about his own first encounter with Joe Cino soon after he moved to New York from Indianapolis, still in his teens. Wandering down Cornelia Street he came upon Joe standing outside the cafe. Johnny said, "I'm looking for Greenwich Village." Joe said, "This is it, come in." Joe's generosity is legendary. He was matchlessly supportive to a generation of emerging theatre artists. I was lucky to be among them. I took him my first play and he gave me a date and we put it on. I directed my first serious New York production at the Cino, and several more plays after that. I saw one play after another by such remarkable writers as Lanford Wilson, Harry Koutoukas, Bob Heide, David Starkweather, Billy Hoffman, Claris Nelson, Tom Eyen, and Bob Patrick. We could all count on total freedom at the Cino to pursue our particular visions, however outré. Joe never held us back, only egged us on. Later I had the lugubrious experience of taking over the Cino when Joe was no longer there and presiding over its final closing. But that shadow long ago lifted, and in all the theatre work I have done since, I have tried to keep the spirit of Joe Cino alive.

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