Stage


From the 1970’s for about ten years, I had a good run. On British television, mostly for the BBC, I was working with the stars of the time on dramas written by equally stellar playwrights: Trevor Griffiths (who went on to write Reds with Warren Beatty), Simon Gray, and then Tom Stoppard’s Professional Foul, his only play written for television. Several BAFTA nominations. Videos for the Rolling Stones, The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney’s Wings. A movie, Nasty Habits, which I was not happy with but with a cast of brilliant women, Glenda Jackson, Sandy Dennis, Melina Mercouri, and Geraldine Page, who became my dearest friend and confidante from then till the end of her too short life. Pauline Kael saw what I’d call “my” cut of Nasty Habits and gave it a terrific review in The New Yorker. Alas, that was not the cut that played in movie houses. And in the theatre, John Webster’s crazy Jacobean The White Devil at the Old Vic, also with Glenda Jackson (such an interesting work life: two Oscars and later a ministry in Tony Blair’s Labour government.

Then another play, Whose Life Is It Anyway?

The central character is a witty talented artist who suffers an injury which leaves him a quadriplegic and who wishes to legally be allowed to die.

Tom Conti played the part.

In 1982, I directed Agnes of God on Broadway, with the combustible beauty Elizabeth Ashley, my heroine Geraldine Page, who was nominated for a Tony, and a singular Amanda Plummer, who won the Tony.

That same season my mother directed Mass Appeal on Broadway. She and the playwright Bill C. Davis had nurtured it through rewrites and an off-Broadway production.

I was on vacation in Mexico with a new girlfriend, and we went to the only public telephone we could find, which was on a wall outside a dentist’s office, for me to call my agent at William Morris in New York. The Tony nominations had been announced that day, and I was expecting one for me. After all, I had received one for Whose Life Is It Anyway?, and Agnes of God was playing to excited audiences and settling in to what would be a run of a year and a half.

“Nope. Sorry,” Johnnie Planco said before I’d even ask the question. He was straightforward with tenderness underneath.

“Well, who was nominated?” I asked somewhat querulously.

He named the directors of three plays. I knew there were four in the category.

“Okay, and who’s the fourth? Some jerk, I suppose.”

He paused then said, “No. Not a jerk. Your mother.”

 

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