Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Shoveling Dirt, Saying Goodbye to Judith Malina

On Sunday, Monica posted a note about Judith Malina’s funeral.  I said I could drive. So, we drove to New Jersey to pay our respects to the passing of this theater luminary.

 It always around Holy Week, Passover that my friends, my family dies, or at least it feels like it.  So we drove to New Jersey.

judith and company Anna Agostino

These drives are always fraught with memories. Monica recalled performing with her in Maudie and Jane, her simultaneous meek childishness and adult demeanor she switched back and forth throughout the play.

Judith_Malina as maudie, hunken to right.

Various friends from the last sixty years of the Living Theater were on hand. 

 Claire, who helped lead us through a 24 theater experiment in Times Square during Occupy, and Jay showed me gifts Judith had given them through the years.   

Brad, who took care of Judith after Hanon died, was there, as well as vagabonds and Living Theater players from decades past.

“This is not a funeral.  This  is a levaya,” noted the Rabbi James Ponet officiating, “accompanying her on her way home.  Life is an exodus while the pilgrimage brings her back home.  This is the mitzvah we do for Judith, just as we did it for Hanon and Julian.”  

And the pilgrimage home was long for Malina’s years, nearly nine decades here, as a world turned upside down over those years.  Before coming, I had been reading Judith's Piscator Notebook, about her years in Erwin Piscator's luminary Dramatic Workshop in the mid 1940's, before forming the Living Theater.  Judith's like connects the avant garde of Brecht and Weimar Berlin with the world shaking possibilities of the 1960's, and a revolutionary theater seldom seen elsewhere. We had a lot to take on in saying goodbye to Judith. 

Over the next half hour, we all surrounded the hole in the ground holding Judith's casket, everyone shoveling in dirt, one hand or shovelful at a time. The experience primal and very, very raw.

Standing by a hole in the ground holding his mother’s casket, Garrick declared, “Julia is now dispersed.”  Garrick noted that he felt this was more of a dispersal than a burial anyway.   "The other d words are a mystery to me.  What I feel confident about is that Judith’s ideas are now dispersed among each of us.  She passed during Passover.  Her last performance was the Living Theater Seder.  She thought of it as that… the plagues… the work that she did since Hanon passed.  After he died, she wrote more great plays.

Red Noir
History of the World
No Place to Hide
We Are Here.

I saw four of them. Judith told me that We Are Here was the best play she had ever written. 
She was completing a play about Venus and Mars before she passed.

Tom, perhaps the player with the deepest roots in the troop, confessed: “I had the best time interpreting her words. Baba Israel, to Judith, you wrote the revolutionary haggadah of my life.”

As a certain point, the voices of friends, family and players from the troop blended  into coherent monologue, scrawled onto my page. A montage of words and images from a moment in time. 
Some read from Tennyson's Ulysses, words Malina had offered him, and now us.

From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

You were arrested with my mom, noted the next to speak, sent to jail for the crime of political theater.

You were full of life, I can’t breathe, signs of wonder, Signs of dreams, spectator into action.  I still hear you Judith.  I still hear you. 

Others planned to meet her in jail once again. 

Jay Dobkin recalled visiting her daily for years, twice a week once she moved up to the retirement community.  “I had the good fortune to see her every day,” he explained.

“Whats next?” she would ask. “To bring about the beautiful anarchist revolution.”

He had meant to bring a copy of the new mission he was working on with Judith.
“Excuse me, my best friend just died.” 

Every human matters was the core point of the theater.  Those in jail matter.

He read her poem “Contra Astrologia” making a plea. “Lets not institutionalize Judith or the  Living Theater. Lets keep the beautiful anarchist revolution going. The stars do not lie.”’

A plane crossed the sky above us.

“Baruck hashem she used to always say when she saw a plane.”  Her wonder with everything remaining all these years.  A lot changes about the world in nearly nine decades.  But Judith still looked at the world as someone who still saw the planes as new, like a child. 

So many memories.

“The flower are blowing but all we see is you, the voice that started a 1000 revolutions of the mind.”

“This looks dangerous,” noted one man, looking over Judith’s grave, “like a stage, like a she’s like it.”  He read her poem, “Now I’m home.”

A friend read Penny Archade’s poem.

Oh Judith
I am not there
Not in NY
Not sitting shiva
Not passing the joint, the red wine
Oh Judith
This morning I wandered the flower market
Yellow jonquils, coral roses, hyacinths and lilacs
I bought a small bunch of violets
Clutched them and wandered thru the great square
Of Zagreb
Suddenly the sound of drums, then horses
Yes horses
The most beautiful grey ,white and gold Dalmation ponies
Spotted and glorious
Astride them 
soldiers in 18th century uniforms 
armed with sabers while others
Strode in formation thru the square
In this drab flat there are Marlboro Lights, green apple juice 
and a package of yellow marshmallow Easter Chicks
The sun is truly golden 
the late afternoon mild
I should have known that you would die in spring
While everything else is being reborn.

 She made us all feel better about who we were, bringing that out in all of us. She reminded us to be honest and be free.

Others remembered her bawdy.

“I want to see some pussy!” she screamed at the players, during one of her plays, directing them to strip and let go of inhibitions or praying for a cock.  

As one woman recalled, she told me she had a lot of sex with Hanon. Now she is buried between Hanon and Julian. 

Eros was everywhere at her funeral, love and death, eros and anxiety, grief and memory mingling. 

“I loved her cause she’s crazy like me” noted another, taking off her top as she eulogized.

"I love you baby," she concluded, saying goodbye.

Others talked about walking between past and present, through time, and being moved by an example of what the world could be if we shared, exchanged, and reveled in our nudity.  "Thanks for giving us that example!" he cried, letting all the emotions out. 

Others just recalled being touched by her.

She was a great lady, another explained. 

“We are all holy” everyone screamed, as more and more of us were taking part, remembering, telling stories about growing up in the theater, being healed by the theater, feeling a glimpse of a revolution of the everyday.

Monica recalled the pieces of Judith flying out into the world, the weight she felt as they touched her, the responsibility.   The night Judith died, she went outside to dream about Judith and a policeman told her she had to move on from the park bench where she was sitting. Enraged Hunken resolved to carry forward with this joyous anarchist revolution.  The dialectics of freedom and repression, care and isolation, creativity and consolidation everywhere, clashing through time. 

Some talked about Malina the teacher, others, the pot smoker, the writer, the dissident, pizza eater, the revolutionary, the artist, the diminutive irreverent soul. 

I thought about those times when the Living Theater allowed me to remember the world is insane, that there is logic in incoherence, genius in madness, in a world turned upside down, where this logic of inversion is sometimes more coherent than in a world right side up. 

Finishing, we started a quiet chord, a humm, breath, mouths wide, and a crescendo, as we screamed in one ever escalating sound, higher and higher together, arms clapsed, singing, screaming, no breath, more breath, light head, mouths open to the sky, higher and higher. We took that big chorus in us and sent it out to the universe.

"You've been carrying a lot this last few years," I greeted Brad, who had been a caregiver of sorts for Judith. 

"It was an honor."

We talked about life and travel, theater and nether reality on the way home.  I missed most every turn driving.  Yet, we found our way, telling stories about road trips by train through India and England, Germany and Prague. 

Later that night Monica posted a note.

The weight and sadness of losing dear Judith has been somewhat lifted today from being amidst her friends and family at the burial. The sun shone bright for her and we circled about her grave, singing, calling to her, thanking her, weeping, laughing, loving, promising we'll carry on her work, that we will fight for total bliss for everyone. We ended in a chord and I felt my own voice swell with the others, reverberate the earth where we lay Judith between her two great loves and shoot out towards the sky. We not only called to all of humanity, we called to ourselves. As Judith would ask, what's next? What will we do to start the revolution now?

Driving down 14th street, past the old Living Theater space at 6th there, I felt like I saw Judith there in the living theater of our collective imaginations, walking in Union Square, as we carry forward, looking out at the city she where once walked. 

Thank you Judith. Its been good to know you. 

Long live the beautiful non violent anarchist revolution.

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