Drexler, Rosalyn 1926-
DREXLER, Rosalyn 1926-
ADDRESSES: Home—60 Union St., #1S, Newark, NJ 07105-1430. Agent—Georges Borchardt, 136 East 57th St., New York, NY 10022 (literary); Helen Harvey Associates, 410 West 24th St., New York, NY 10011 (drama). E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Playwright, novelist, and painter. Worked briefly as a professional wrestler; taught at Writer's Workshop, University of Iowa, 1976-77; taught art at University of Colorado. Has held one-woman art shows at galleries in New York City, Boston, and Provincetown, RI; her work has been included in group shows at Martha-Jackson, Pace Gallery, Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, and Whitney Museum.
MEMBER: New Dramatists, New York Theatre Strategy, Dramatists Guild, PEN, Actors Studio.
AWARDS, HONORS: Obie Awards from Village Voice, 1964, for Home Movies, 1979, and 1985; MacDowell fellowship, 1965; Rockefeller grant, 1965, 1968, and 1974; humor prize from Paris Review, 1966, for short story, "Dear"; Guggenheim fellowship, 1970-71; Emmy Award for writing excellence from Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1974, for The Lily Show.
I Am the Beautiful Stranger, Grossman (New York, NY), 1965.
One or Another, Dutton (New York, NY), 1970.
To Smithereens, New American Library (New York, NY), 1972, published as Submissions of a Lady Wrestler, Mayflower (London, England), 1976.
The Cosmopolitan Girl, M. Evans (New York, NY), 1974.
Starborn: The Story of Jenni Love, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1979.
Tomorrow Is Sometimes Temporary When Tomorrow Rolls Around, Simon & Schuster (New York), 1979.
Bad Guy, Dutton (New York, NY), 1982.
Art Does (Not) Exist, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1996.
Dear, Applause (New York, NY), 1997.
UNDER PSEUDONYM JULIA SOREL
Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1976.
Alex: Portrait of a Teenage Prostitute, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1977.
Rocky, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1977.
See How She Runs, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1978.
The Line of Least Existence and Other Plays, introduction by Richard Gilman, (includes Home Movies [produced in New York City at Judson Poet's Theatre, 1964], Hot Buttered Roll [produced in New York City at New Dramatists Committee, 1966], The Investigation [produced in Boston at Theatre Co. of Boston; first produced in New York City at New Dramatists Committee, 1966], The Bed Was Full [produced at New Dramatists Committee, 1967], The Line of Least Existence [produced at Judson Poets' Theatre, March 15, 1968], and Softly, and Consider the Nearness [produced in New York City at St. Luke's Church, 1969]), Random House (New York, NY), 1967.
(With others) Collision Course (twelve plays; includes Skywriting by Drexler; produced together in New York City at Cafe au Go Go, May 8, 1968), Random House (New York, NY), 1968.
The Investigation [and] Hot Buttered Roll, Methuen (London, England), 1969.
Was I Good?, produced by New Dramatists Committee, 1972.
The Ice Queen, produced in Boston at The Proposition, 1973.
She Who Was He, produced in Richmond, Va., at Virginia Commonwealth University, 1974.
Travesty Parade, produced in Los Angeles at Center Theatre Group, 1974.
Vulgar Lives, produced in New York City at Theatre Strategy, 1979.
The Writer's Opera, produced in New York City at TNC, 1979.
Graven Image, produced in New York City, 1980.
Starburn, produced in New York City, 1983.
Room 17-C, produced in Omaha, 1983.
Delicate Feelings, produced in New York City, 1984.
Transients Welcome, Broadway Play Publishing (New York, NY), 1986.
A Matter of Life and Death, produced in New York City, 1986.
What Do You Call It?, produced in New York City, 1986.
The Heart That Eats Itself, produced in New York City, 1987.
The Flood, produced in 1992.
Rosalyn Drexler: Intimate Emotions, Grey Art Gallery, New York University (New York, NY), 1986.
Work represented in anthologies, including The Bold New Women, Fawcett, 1966; New American Review, New American Library, 1969; and The Off-Off Broadway Book, 1972. Author of screenplay Naked Came the Stranger; of television script The Lily Show; and Cara Pina, 1992. Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Esquire, Village Voice, and Mademoiselle. Film reviewer for Vogue.
SIDELIGHTS: Rosalyn Drexler's dramatic work is based in "a reaction against the intellectualism and pretentiousness which surrounded the theatre of the absurd," as Howard McNaughton wrote in ContemporaryDramatists. Her own dramatic works display a verbal dexterity and a delight in lampooning the avant garde art world. "Few contemporary playwrights can equal her verbal playfulness, fearless spontaneity, and boundless irreverence," Michael Smith wrote. "Few in fact, share her devotion to pure writing, preferring their language functional, meaningful, or psychologically 'real.'" Jack Kroll commented: "Drexler presents the spectacle of a playwright with a brilliant gift, not only for language, but for making language work on many levels with the ease and excitement of a Cossack riding his horse everywhere but in the saddle." She has garnered three Obie Awards for her dramatic works. Drexler's novels are humorous slapstick romps that critics have compared to both Kafka and the Marx Brothers. In addition to succeeding as a playwright and novelist, Drexler is also a painter, whose art has been shown in New York City venues.
The play The Line of Least Existence, which Kroll found to be "about the total dissonance that occurs whenever living creatures find themselves in any sort of relationship," was deemed by him to be evidence of Drexler's "sweet shrewdness that seems to be talking straight to the most hidden part of you. She has the great and necessary gift of fashioning a new, total innocence out of the total corruption that she clearly sees. With lots of laughs." McNaughton noted in The Line of Least Existence "an utterly unpretentious playfulness, in which words are discovered and traded just for their phatic values."
Drexler's play Hot Buttered Roll features an aging billionaire, a callgirl hired to entertain him, and a female bodyguard. "The play's central image," McNaughton admitted, "is never clearly stated, but seems to be that of (gendered) man as a sort of transplant patient, his facilities being monitored externally, his needs being canvassed through a huge mail-order system." Benedict Nightingale praised how Drexler uses a preoccupation with "sterile hedonism and dead feelings" to create "arresting dramatic terms." Published in England in the same volume with Hot Buttered Roll was Drexler's The Investigation, which depicts the police interrogation of a juvenile suspected of murder. According to Contemporary Dramatists, the detective conducting the interrogation "is so resourceful that his techniques of sadistic attrition become the main theatrical dynamic."
Skywriting, in the words of the same source, contains "only two characters. . . . The unnamed man and woman . . . who are segregated on either side of the stage, argue about the possession of a huge (projected) picture postcard of clouds." The author of the Contemporary Dramatists entry went on to conclude that Skywriting "is a very clever and economical play, in which the primordial merges with the futuristic."
Drexler's first novel, 1965's I Am the Beautiful Stranger, is the "vital, intense 'diary' of one Selma Silver," as Maggie Rennert in Book Week put it. Rennert went on to maintain that Selma's story, as a teenager growing up during the 1930s, "is swift, complete, individual, and universal." Speaking of Drexler's novel One or Another, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times wrote: "Rosalyn Drexler may very well be the first Marx Sister." Lehmann-Haupt described the novel as being filled with "so many sight, sound and word gags, so many sillinesses and surrealistic—not to mention little grinning obscenities—that the reader soon begins to flinch in anticipation of the next verbal skit and to bark with relieved laughter when it works." Kroll contended that Drexler belongs with Donald Barthelme and Thomas Pynchon as representatives of the "new literary voice." He explained: "The new literary voice comes from some odd and perilous psychic area still being charted, some basic metabolic flashpoint where the self struggles to convert its recurrent breakdowns into new holds on life and reality. . . . Drexler is . . . funny, scary, preternaturally aware she is at the exact center where the new sensibility is being put together cell by cell."
Drexler's exuberant style does not always earn critical acclaim. The novel To Smithereens fared less well with critics, though undoubtedly the author drew upon her experience as a women's wrestler to write it. Michael Wood praised the humor and intelligence of the novel and noted that the language "has confidence in its capacity to render precisely the perceptions it is supposed to render." But Anatole Broyard wrote that Drexler "seems almost to strain for irrelevancy, to struggle through a strenuous willed-free association in search of a fashionable zaniness." A critic for the Times Literary Supplement found that "the strength of Miss Drexler's writing is in the energy of her prose: every joke is cleancut. And yet she refuses to go inside, to go deeper into her characters' psyches. She has a natural eye and ear but her mistake is in assuming that the number of empty gaps, the things not said, will indicate, or evoke, the emptiness of the lives she has created." Another of Drexler's novels is Bad Guy. This book, according to Dana Sonnenschein and Juliet Byington in American Women Writers, is "about a therapist who uses dream interpretation and psychodrama to treat a teenage rapist/murderer whose role models have all been television characters."
In the author's The Cosmopolitan Girl, Sara Sanborn in the New York Times Book Review noted that Drexler "weaves a seamy web of parodies that covers the situation perfectly," and stated further that the novel "is a send-up and send-off for the New Woman." Sara Blackburn in Book World assessed Drexler's work as a novelist: "She's an absolute original who can take all of the ingredients that usually characterize 'serious' fiction . . . and use them with inventiveness, playfulness, and even hilarity. Wonderfully, it works, and the result is admirable not only for its style and wit, but for its lack of pretense, for the respect it grants its reader in not straining beyond its materials, and for what it achieves; art which is also high entertainment."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Women Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 2, 1974, Volume 6, 1976.
Drexler, Rosalyn, Rosalyn Drexler: Intimate Emotions, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, 1986.
American Theatre, December, 1993, p. 58.
Art in America, September, 2000, Michael Duncan, "Rosalyn Drexler at Mitchell Algus and Nicholas Davies."
Books and Bookmen, June, 1967.
Book Week, June 27, 1965, Maggie Rennert, review of I Am the Beautiful Stranger, p. 22.
Book World, March 19, 1972, Sara Blackburn, review of To Smithereens, p. 5.
Ms., July, 1975.
Nation, August 31, 1970.
New Statesman, February 27, 1969.
Newsweek, April 1, 1968; February 9, 1970; June 1, 1970, Jack Kroll, review of One or Another, p. 87; March 10, 1975.
New York Review of Books, August 10, 1972, Michael Wood, review of To Smithereens, p. 14.
New York Times, June 5, 1970; February 21, 1972.
New York Times Book Review, June 28, 1970; March 30, 1975, Sara Sanborn, review of The Cosmopolitan Girl, p. 4.
Publishers Weekly, February 12, 1996, p. 59.
Times Literary Supplement, September 14, 1973.
Village Voice, March 28, 1968, Michael Smith, review of The Line of Least Existence, p. 50.*