Horovitz chronicles 'life in our time'

October 01, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

PLAYWRIGHT ISRAEL Horovitz, the son of a Boston truck driver who later in life became a lawyer, feels a strong affinity for blue-collar workers, a class he believes is shrinking in this country.

In a series of eight plays focusing on working-class lives in Gloucester, Mass., his adopted home town of 20 years, Horovitz addresses the gritty problems of ordinary people struggling to find their niche. "Park Your Car in Harvard Yard," opening tonight for a pre-Broadway run at the Mechanic Theatre, is part of the eight-play cycle.

"I feel an urgent need to chronicle what life was like in our time for posterity," says Horovitz, who is in Baltimore for the rehearsals and opening. "In Gloucester the fishing industry is crashing to an end. It is very sad."

He describes his present production (which features Jason Robards and Judith Ivey) as a human comedy.

"The phrase 'park your car in Harvard Yard' is an expression everyone uses to illustrate a Boston accent," he explains. "In the play, the man is Harvard-educated and the woman is uneducated. He is ailing and she has been hired to take care of him. She learns that someone close to her actually parked their car in his yard, and that is a very important discovery for her.

"The play is based on no specific personalities. What it is about is forgiveness and acceptance of one's life as it is.

"All the Gloucester plays (which premiere in my little Gloucester theater) are infused with an enormous amount of affection," says this winner of numerous awards including two Obie (off-Broadway) Awards, a Drama Desk Award, an Emmy and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Horovitz, 52, was born and raised in Wakefield, Mass. He attributes the success of the cycle to the advice given him by the late Thornton Wilder, acclaimed author of the American classic, "Our Town."

"He said it all in one sentence," notes Horovitz. "I had enrolled in the Ph.D program at City University in New York when I was 30, and had begun my first cycle, 'The Wakefield Plays,' which preceded the Gloucester ones. They were full of grand literary allusion.

"Mr. Wilder was 86 at the time, near the end. The dear man read all seven of the plays and was very flattering. But he said one thing that changed the course of my writing. He told me there was not much about Wakefield in my works.

"It was the bitter truth," he says, sighing. "I did not make that mistake with the Gloucester plays."

Horovitz began his career at age 17 when he penned his first work, "The Comeback." Since that time, nearly 50 of his plays have been produced throughout the world and translated into approximately 20 languages.

The playwright's work "Line" (which introduced actor Richard Dreyfuss) was revived by the 13th Street Theatre in New York and is now in its 16th year. It is off-Broadway's longest-running non-musical play.

"Park Your Car in Harvard Yard" will be the second Horovitz play to be produced on Broadway. The first was "Morning" (part of his "Morning," "Noon" and "Night" trilogy).

He is also a screenwriter, having penned the comedy "Author! Author!" starring Al Pacino, and "The Strawberry Statement," which won a Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize.

Horovitz has two of the Gloucester plays in the can, "Waterfront" and "Astor Hair." He has just completed the screenplay for another in the Gloucester cycle, "Strong-Man's Weak Child," for Paramount Pictures. Patrick Swayze will star.

Reflecting on the early years, he said, "My formal education was put on hold at age 17 when my father informed me he planned to go back to college to get a law degree, which he did. He died at age 80 of Parkinson's Disease.

"So I continued to write plays," Horovitz added, "and got a job stage managing and doing props for the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. Then, by a fluke of fate, I got a chance to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.

Horovitz, who wryly admits he has a limited acting talent, says "What I learned in terms of courses was nothing, but I was in London and in touch with the English theater world."

A few years later Horovitz was given the rare opportunity of being playwright-in-residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

"It was a terrific experience watching wonderful actors, like Paul Scofield performing 'King Lear.'"

During the '70s the playwright created his own adaptation of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," a production with many special gimmicks that was produced at Baltimore's Center Stage.

While in Baltimore during that period, Horovitz collaborated with

Stan Wojewodski (former Center Stage artistic director) on an adaptation of "Barnaby the Scrivner" for a broadcast on Maryland Public Television.

"I love public television," he said, "but I don't find network TV in this country very interesting." He laughed. "Once in a while when I need money I will knock out a pilot.

"For me the excitement lies in live theater. I love to stand in back of the theater and watch the people watch my play."

Performances of "Park Your Car in Harvard Yard" run through Oct. 27. Curtain times are: 8 p.m. Tuesdays though Saturdays; 2 p.m. matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. matinees Sundays. For ticket information, call the Mechanic Theatre box office at 625-1400.

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