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Eyen, Tom 1941-1991

EYEN, Tom 1941-1991

(Jerome Eyen, Roger Short, Jr.)

PERSONAL: Born August 14, 1941, in Cambridge, OH; died of a heart attack, May 26, 1991, in Palm Beach, FL; son of Abraham and Julia (Farhad) Eyen; married Liza Giraudoux (divorced); children: Jacque, David, Christopher. Education: Ohio State University, B.A., 1961; attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, 1961-62.

CAREER: Playwright and director. Had own repertory company, Theatre of the Eye, part of the La Mama complex. Sometimes directed own plays under the names Jerome Eyen and Roger Short, Jr. Former publicity agent; drama teacher at Metropolitan Television Arts, New York, NY, scriptwriter for the syndicated television series, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, beginning 1976.

AWARDS, HONORS: Rockefeller Foundation grant, 1967-68; Show Business Best Playwright Off-Off-Broadway Grand Award, 1969, for 4 No Plays and The White Whore and the Bit Player; Guggenheim fellowship, 1970; Tony Award, American Theatre Wing, and Grammy Award, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, both 1982, and NAACP Award, 1983, all for Dreamgirls.

WRITINGS:

PLAYS

(And director and producer) Tour de Four, first produced in New York, 1963.

Frustrata, the Dirty Little Girl with the Paper Rose Stuck in Her Head Is Demented!, first produced in New York, 1964, produced in London, 1970.

The White Whore and the Bit Player (also see below; produced Off-Broadway at Cafe La Mama, 1964), Hill & Wang, 1969.

Sarah B. Divine! and Other Plays (contains: My Next Husband Will Be a Beauty!, produced in New York, 1964; The White Whore and the Bit Player; Three Sisters from Springfield, Illinois, produced Off-Broadway at Cafe La Mama; Why Hannah's Skirt Won't Stay Down, produced in New York, 1965; Grand Tenement/November 22nd, produced in New York, 1967; Sarah B. Divine!, first produced in Spoleto, Italy, 1967, produced in London, 1973; The Death of Off-Broadway, produced in New York; The Kama Sutra, produced in New York, 1968; Who Killed My Bald Sister Sophie?, produced in New York, 1968; What IsMaking Gilda So Gray?, produced Off-Off Broadway at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, 1969; Aretha in the Ice Palace: Or, the Fully Guaranteed F—- Me Doll, produced Off-Off Broadway at the Extension Theatre, January, 1970), Winter House, 1971.

Court, produced Off-Broadway at Cafe La Mama, 1965.

Can You See a Prince, produced in New York, 1965.

The Last Great Cocktail Party, produced in New York, 1965.

The Demented World of Tom Eyen, produced in New York, 1965.

Cinderella Revisited, produced in New York, 1965.

Give My Regards to Off-Off Broadway (Part I and II), produced Off-Broadway, 1966.

When Johnny Comes Dancing Home Again, produced in New York, 1968.

Alice through the Glass Lightly, produced in New York, 1968.

(Editor) New American Plays, Volume II, Hill & Wang, 1968.

(Editor) Michael Smith Anthology of Plays, Bobbs-Merrill, 1968.

4 No Plays (a program consisting of four short plays, Paradise Later, Fantasies and Smaller Peaces, Frankenstein's Wife, and Antigone Meets Dionysus for Lunch), produced Off-Off-Broadway at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, January, 1969.

(And director) Caution: A Love Story, produced Off-Off Broadway at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, January, 1969.

(And director) Lana Got Laid in Lebanon, produced Off-Off Broadway at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club January, 1970.

Gertrude Stein and Other Great Men, produced Off-Off Broadway at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, January, 1970.

(And director) The Dirtiest Show in Town, first produced Off-Off Broadway at La Mama Repertory Theatre, spring, 1970; produced Off-Broadway at Astor Place Theatre, June, 1970; produced on West End at Duchess Theatre, 1971.

Why Hanna's Skirt Won't Stay Down (produced Off-Broadway at the Village Gate, June, 1974), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1971.

Women behind Bars (first produced Off-Off Broadway at the New York Theatre Ensemble, 1974; produced Off-Broadway at Astor Place Theatre, 1975), Samuel French, 1975.

(Author of book and lyrics) Dreamgirls, produced on Broadway at Imperial Theater, December 20, 1981.

(And director) Kicks: The Showgirl Musical, 1986.

(And director) Dangerous Music, 1988.

Also author of The Dirtiest Musical, 1975, "2008 1/2 (A Spaced Odyssey)," 1976, and "Milliken Breakfast Shows," 1977-78.

Also author of script for "'Ole Redhead Is Back!" a National Broadcasting Co. (NBC-TV) special starring Bette Midler.

ADAPTATIONS: The White Whore and the Bit Player was filmed by Cannon Films, 1969.

SIDELIGHTS: Tom Eyen had a score of Off-Broadway plays to his credit—including the critically acclaimed Why Hannah's Skirt Won't Stay Down and Women behind Bars—when in 1981 he wrote the book and lyrics for perhaps his most well-known effort, and one of the biggest Broadway successes of the 1980s, Dreamgirls. Dreamgirls follows the rise, fall, and rebirth of a 1960s-era black female trio as they move from appearances at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem to a niche in "mainstream" pop music. Sexual politics, betrayals, and ruthless ambition earmark the progress of the main characters as they struggle for individual identities in a business that would package them as a disposable product. Though Eyen died of a heart attack in 1991, Dreamgirls remains a viable property, with a new soundtrack album released in 2001, and a full stage revival scheduled for 2004. The playwright will also be remembered for his contribution to the offbeat 1970s television series, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

Eyen's Off-Broadway work Why Hannah's Skirt Won't Stay Down is, according to Michael T. Smith in Contemporary Dramatists, "set in the funhouse at Coney Island, where Hannah gets her thrills by standing over the airhole." Smith went on to report that the character of Hannah shows up in several of Eyen's subsequent plays, including Who Killed My Bald Sister Sophie? and What Is Making Gilda So Gray? Eyen began experimenting with the musical form before Dreamgirls, and, as Smith put it, "won some commercial viability" with The Dirtiest Show in Town, which the critic described as "a satirical response to the sexoriented shows featuring nude actors that were the fad in New York."

"It's the nature of that ruthlessness that gives Dreamgirls its bite," noted Frank Rich in a New York Times review of the musical. "Instead of just providing the usual white villains, Tom Eyen's libretto also suggests that the black characters betray themselves as they pursue an empty white American dream." "Presumably, [Dreamgirls] is telling us that the entertainment industry is populated by sharks with pearly cuff links, that greed and ambition prevail and that performers are molded into best-selling artists only to be tossed aside once their earning power declines," said Washington Post critic David Richards. "But its cynicism is a pose. It really believes you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and climb right back up the charts again. The heavies get their comeuppance. The others get comebacks."

That Eyen, whose Off-Broadway work is characterized by counter-cultural themes and outrageous characters, was involved in as commercial a project as Dreamgirls surprised some. As the author related to Sondra Lowell in a Los Angeles Times article, "One of my old friends said, 'You wrote that? But it's so sensitive, so real.' I said, 'I beg your pardon.' How dare they?" But, according to Lowell, Eyen saw a continuity in his work: "Dreamgirls," said the playwright, "has a large lady who's very unhappy and against the system. Women behind Bars also has a large lady. I always have a large lady in some abstract situation who's the villain. I think my basic theme is the freak against society."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Dramatists, 4th edition, St. James Press (Chicago, IL), 1988.

PERIODICALS

American Theatre, May, 2002, Lenora Inez Brown, reveiw of Dreamgirls in Concert, p. 68.

Back Stage, December 21, 1990, Ira J. Bilowit, "Struggling to Produce Dreamgirls,"p.28.

Los Angeles Times, March 12, 1982, January 6, 1983, April 2, 1983, August 14, 1986.

Newsweek, April 28, 1969.

New York, June 6, 1970.

New York Times, May 2, 1970, December 21, 1981, September 23, 1983; April 25, 2003, Jesse McKinley, "On Stage and Off," p. E2.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 6, 1997, Judith Newmark, review of Dreamgirls, p. C6.

San Francisco Chronicle, March 31, 2002, Steven Winn, "Dreamgirls Better Second Time Around," p. 44.

Saturday Review, April 19, 1969.

Washington Post, April 26, 1986.

OBITUARIES:

PERIODICALS

Chicago Tribune, May 28, 1991.

Los Angeles Times, May 28, 1991.

New York Times, May 28, 1991.

Time, June 10, 1991.

Washington Post, May 29, 1991.*

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