Murray Mednick

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Dec 22 09:12:01 MST 2002

(An interesting profile on a playwright who grew up a block from me in a
tiny village in the Catskills. However, it does not really address some of
the class questions that are implicit in the play "Joe and Betty", nor in
Murray's life, upon which the play is based. My village was perhaps 80
percent Jewish and nearly all the adult men had cast off their working
class roots by the 1950s, becoming shopkeepers at the low end of the scale
or hotel-owners at the top. My own father drove a truck before WWII but
opened up a fruit and vegetable store afterwards. The "Joe" in Mednick's
play held down two blue-collar jobs, driving a truck and running the
projector at the local movie house, which was all he could do to support a
family with 7 kids, another anomaly in a Jewish village that had discovered
birth control. When you mix together the stigma of economic
underachievement and mental illness, there was an obvious cross for a
sensitive youth like Murray to bear. Fortunately, he turned these traumas
into material for a long string of plays, including the latest which
confronts the hell of his youth.)

NY Times, Dec. 22, 2002

Surviving Brooklyn, and Finding a Voice Far Away

THOUGH he has been a playwright throughout his adult life, Murray Mednick,
63, has never much craved attention or applause. You might say he has
actively avoided both.

Despite living in Los Angeles since he immigrated from Brooklyn in 1974,
Mr. Mednick has mostly sidestepped the film and television industries and
traditional theatrical shipping lanes in order to devote his energies to
writing and promoting introspective, poetical stage plays. And while he has
grown increasingly interested lately in "the sound and rhythm and the
beauty of the language," as he put it, at the expense of scene settings and
even characters, about 10 years ago he fixated on his Jewish roots. The
result was three rather accessible domestic plays with clipped vernacular
dialogue and tinges of absurdism, two of which have found their way to New

Take "Joe and Betty," Mr. Mednick's gruesomely humorous drama that opened
last Sunday at the Kirk Theater, after its New York premiere at the José
Quintero Theater in June. The play, set in 1951, recalls Mr. Mednick's
parents, mired in poverty and mutual loathing after their move to the
Catskills from Brooklyn in 1945. Emile, an offstage, lice-ridden
11-year-old stand-in for Mr. Mednick, watches his parents destroy each
other, their truncated repartee flaunting the Jewish cadences of a comedy
by Neil Simon but without the rim shots. The effect is that of a merciless
study in human implosion. (John Diehl and Annabelle Gurwitch are repeating
their title roles in the current run.)

Yet in his review in The New York Times, Bruce Weber reported some bright
shimmers in Mr. Mednick's black play. "A harrowing, deeply distressing and
memorable, if not exactly enjoyable, comedy," Mr. Weber said, "it is
reclaimed from pure, discomforting grimness by the evidence that the author
survived his childhood to write about it with such cleansing vengeance."

Mr. Mednick attributes that survival to his bountiful "big bubba"
grandmother Celia, a cook in the school he attended, to whom he dedicated
"Joe and Betty." "She took care of me and gave me enough love so I was able
to have some element of sanity," Mr. Mednick said in one of several
interviews in Los Angeles. And sanity was hard to come by in the Mednick


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