Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Blind Junkie

I tried to find out some more about the community garden that used to be on Fourth (see Tuesday), but I came up empty-handed.  In my search though, I did come up with another story of earlier years, just a couple of blocks away on Sixth.  It first caught my attention in a New York magazine from August, 1972 (cover headline: 58 Killings in One Week).  Across from one listing for the Chateau Madrid (Lexington &  48th), where Tito Puente & his orchestra were performing, and above another for a Kitchen performance of The Continuing Story of Helen and Ferd - "a closed-circuit, multiple-image, video piece about pornography, sexual identity, the institution of marriage and the effects of living too close to an electronic medium" - is a listing for "a new rock opera," The Blind Junkie, by Peter Copani, playing free at Sixth Avenue & 12th Street.













The Blind Junkie?  Performed a year earlier at the Lincoln Theater street theater festival, the play was described by Newsweek's Jack Kroll as:

... perhaps the sharpest possibility of street theater in the festival…“The Blind Junkie,” a powerful, witty piece by Peter Copani, performed by a horde of kids of all ages, acting, singing, and dancing up a storm in their jeans, shirt-sleeves, tight dresses and sunglasses, and driven by a great soul-rock score… This show, with its bitterness, humor, and absolute wisdom about ghetto realities from cops to drugs to sex to welfare ...

Pellegrino D'Acierno's Italian American Heritage quotes a '73 NY Times reference to Copani as "the leading playwright of the streets," & mentions an earlier Copani play, the one act musical, Street Jesus, as being specifically geared towards this neighborhood:

A former junkie who had lived on the streets, he confronted, in generating Street Jesus, the warring Italian & Puerto Rican gangs of Park Slope, Brooklyn ... (and)  courageously sought to show the aggressive neighborhood youths how to siphon off their hostilities through dramatic expression and to transform their factionalism into theatrical collaboration.

It's hard to think of Sixth & 12th today -with three of its sedate corners occupied by restaurants & coffee shops (Soigne, anyone?) - as ever having been a stage for political theater, and many of today's Slope residents are unaware that like the rest of the city, the Slope suffered its share of racial tension, with documented incidents of rioting at John Jay High School and on Fifth in the 60's & 70's.  Like the rest of the city, drugs and crime were rampant too, and were a steady presence at the edges of the gentrified brownstone Park Slope "heartland" for decades after.  Up to the early 80's, Sixth was drawn as a dividing line below which many prospective (white) residents were advised not to settle, especially in the southern part of the Slope.  Borders shifted south & west as years went by, until today even Gowanus (Gowanus!) is a mecca for the new, moneyed creative classes.  Who the hell would ever have imagined?

Peter Copani is still around, working in theater and also as a life-healer and inspirational speaker.  It's too bad we can't see footage of the Sixth Ave show, but here's a song from another performance.


 


It's hard to get a feel of the show from a brief clip, but it's definitely a child of its era.  I'd love to have seen it on Sixth in '72.



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