Kondoleon, Harry 1955-1994
KONDOLEON, Harry 1955-1994
PERSONAL: Born February 26, 1955, in New York, NY; died of AIDS, March 16, 1994, in New York, NY; son of Sophocles (a public accountant) and Athena (a secretary; maiden name, Cola) Kondoleon. Education: Hamilton College, B.A., 1977; Yale University, M.F. A., 1981.
CAREER: Actors Studio, New York, NY, member of playwrights and directors unit, 1978-80; Manhattan Theatre Club, New York, NY, member of playwrights unit, 1982—; New School for Social Research, New York, NY, playwriting instructor, 1983-84; Columbia University, New York, NY, playwriting instructor, 1985-87.
AWARDS, HONORS: Wallace Bradley Playwriting Prize, Hamilton College, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977; International Institute of Education fellowship, 1977; Kazan Award from Yale Drama School, 1979 and 1980, for best original script; Oppenheimer Award for "best new American playwright" from Newsday, 1983; Obie Award for "most promising young playwright" from Village Voice, 1983; New York Foundation for the Arts grant, 1984; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1985.
The Cote d'Azur Triangle (one-act), first produced in New York City at Actors Studio, May, 1980.
The Brides (one-act; first produced in Stockbridge, MA, at Lenox Arts Center, July, 1980; produced Off-Off Broadway at Cubiculo Theatre, May, 1981), published in Wordplays 2, edited by Bonnie Marranca and Gautam Dasgupta, Performing Arts Journal, 1982.
Rococo (two-act), first produced in New Haven, CT, at Yale Repertory Theatre, January, 1981.
Andrea Rescued (one-act), first produced in New York, NY, at Double Image Theatre, June, 1982.
The Fairy Garden (one-act), first produced in New York, NY, at Double Image Theatre, June, 1982.
Self-Torture and Strenuous Exercise (one-act), first produced in New York, NY, at Double Image Theatre, June, 1982.
Clara Toil (teleplay), first produced in Waterford, CT, at Eugene O'Neill Playwriting Conference, July, 1982.
Slacks and Tops (one-act; first produced in New York, NY, at Manhattan Theatre Club, March, 1983), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1983.
Christmas on Mars (two-act; first produced Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, June, 1983), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1983.
The Vampires (two-act), first produced in Seattle, WA, at Empty Space Theatre, January, 1984, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1984.
Linda Her (one-act; first produced Off-Broadway at Second Stage, May, 1984), published as Linda Her, and The Fairy Garden: Two Short Plays, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1985.
Anteroom: A Play in Two Acts, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1986.
Andrea Rescued: An Act of Faith, Caliban Press (Montclair, NJ), 1987.
Zero Positive, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1989.
Love Diatribe, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1991.
Self Torture and Strenuous Exercise: Selected Plays, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1991.
The Houseguests, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1993.
The Little Book of Professor Enigma, first produced in New York, NY, at Theater for the New City, 1995.
Play Yourself, produced in New York, NY, at Century Center for the Performing Arts,2002.
Saved or Destroyed,Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY)2002
The Death of Understanding: Love Poems, Caliban (Montclair, NJ), 1987.
The Whore of Tjampuan: A Novel, PAJ Publications (New York, NY), 1988.
Diary of a Lost Boy: A Novel, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
SIDELIGHTS: Harry Kondoleon's first plays were offbeat poetic comedies wrought with dark humor. A reviewer in the Village Voice said Kondoleon's writing "couldn't be less fashionable or commercial." Kondoleon thrust his flawed characters into desperate situations that made them grapple with intense emotions. Library Journal reviewer Rebecca S. Kelm observed that Kondoleon's "humor may be black and the situations often absurd, but the result is perceptive and poignant." Kondoleon's writing became even darker when he contracted AIDS. After this, he created characters who also suffered from the disease, which consumed them both physically and emotionally.
Kondoleon first gained recognition with the production of "Self-Torture and Strenuous Exercise," published in Best Short Plays, 1984. "Self-Torture" centers around two couples' struggles with infidelity, loneliness, and desire.
Writing in the New York Times, Frank Rich termed Harry Kondoleon's play Slacks and Tops "an absurdist nightmare" and declared that its "caustic, surreal humor and bizarre vision are original and special." The one-act comedy, set in a motel room near Kennedy International Airport, revolves around the insane antics of an "all-American family determined to uproot to Africa," according to Rich. The critic concluded that Kondoleon's "strong, fresh voice" is witnessed "to exceptional advantage" in the play.
In The Houseguests, relationships are defined as two couples swap mates and then must come to grips with financial devastation. Back Stage reviewer Martin Schaeffer described The Houseguests as "witty, crisp, and rich in a sort of black philosophical humor." Many of Kondoleon's other plays follow suit. In Love Diatribe a grown man and daughter return home to live with their parents after failed personal relationships. Love Diatribe is one of the first works in which Kondoleon brings AIDS into the picture. Eva Resnikova wrote in the National Review: "Love Diatribe ostensibly deals with heterosexual relationships, but homosexuality and AIDS are constant presences, both through a neighbor whose son was an early victim of the disease and who remains convinced that his son would not have died had the neighborhood children treated him more kindly, and metaphorically, through the 'diatribe' of the title, a heated call for love in the face of death."
From here on, most of Kondoleon's writing focuses on characters inflicted with the AIDS. In Play Yourself a character's friend dies of the disease. Some critics felt that the integration of AIDS into this play was awkward and contrived. The main characters Jean and Yvonne spend a great deal of time awaiting letters from their friend Bobby, who is on tour in Europe with his wealthy lover. Variety reviewer Charles Isherwood considered "the reading of these missives" to be "one of play's weaker dramatic devices and . . . an awkward way of drawing in the specter of AIDS." Isherwood concluded that Play Yourself "is a less cohesive piece of writing" than some of Kondoleon's other works.
The Little Book of Professor Enigma and Saved or Destroyed are Kondoleon's last plays. The characters in The Little Book take part in a game in which they fill in pages of an empty book with fantasies that they imagine heir friends have had. Instead of reading the fantasies aloud, however, the characters act them out. Back Stage's Dan Isaac described the play as "haunting and bizarre," but remarked that it "serves to blur the difference between fantasy and reality for the audience." In "Saved or Destroyed" a group of actors rehearses a family play that focuses on an unborn child. Back Stage's Karl Levitt considered the play a paradox, "entertaining yet intellectually challenging, wispily ethereal yet theatrically satisfying."
Kondoleon published his debut novel, The Whore of Tjampuan, in 1988, about a young man who leaves his job in an art gallery and flies to Tjampuan, Bali, where he meets and falls in love with an eccentric young woman. Kondoleon's second novel, Diary of a Lost Boy, garnered more critical acclaim. Diary tells the story of Hector Diaz, an AIDS victim obsessed with his approaching death. Hector's doctor tells him that he has, at best, two more years to live. To detach himself from his own crumbling world, Hector focuses his energy on his best friend Susan's failing marriage with her philandering husband and immerses himself in the works of medieval German Meister Eckhart. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that Hector "faces his situation with a mixture of black humor, despair, and philosophical detachment." The same reviewer praised Kondoleon's characterization in Diary by adding that he "paints a wryly comic, if familiar, portrait of trendy Manhattan types, straight and gay, with the compulsive sex lives, therapists and self-important careerism." Remarked Kelm: "This is not a perfect novel, but its messages are served up with great wit and powerful observation, both of New York City and of the human condition."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Dramatists, 5th edition, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1973.
Osborn, Elizabeth, M., editor, The Way We Love Now:American Plays and the AIDS Crisis, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1990.
American Theater, July-August, 1994, Robert Brustein, "Harry Kondoleon: 1955-1994," p. 53.
Back Stage, June 4, 1993, Martin Schaeffer, review of The Houseguests, p. 44; January 6, 1995, Dan Isaac, review of The Little Book of Professor Enigma, p. 40; December 1, 2000, Karl Levett, review of Saved or Destroyed, p. 56.
Daily Variety, July 11, 2002, Charles Isherwood, review of Play Yourself, p. 8.
Drama-Logue, November 24-30, 1983.
Hollywood Reporter, November 17, 1983.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1993, review of Diary of a Lost Boy p. 1481; April 15, 1988, review of The Whore of Tjampuan, p. 562.
Lambda Book Report, March, 1994, review of Diary of a Lost Boy, p. 162.
Library Journal, January, 1994, review of Diary of aLost Boy, p. 15.
National Review, March 18, 1991, Eva Resnikova, review of Love Diatribe, pp. 65-66.
Newsday, October 12, 1983.
New York Times, January 12, 1994, review of Diary of a Lost Boy, January 12, 1994; March 30, 1983; October, 22, 1995, Diary of a Lost Boy, p. 44.
New York Times Book Review, November 6, 1988, review of The Whore of Tjampuan, p. 22.
Parnassus, January, 1995, review of Diary of a LostBoy, p. 197.
Publishers Weekly, November 22, 1993, review of Diary of a Lost Boy, p. 50.
Variety, July 15, 2002, Charles Isherwood, review of Play Yourself, pp. 31-32.
Village Voice, June 8, 1982.
Wall Street Journal, March 7, 1994, review of Diary of a Lost Boy, p. 15.
Don Shewey Web site,http://www.donshewey.com/ (October 23, 2003,) Don Shewey, "Harry Kondoleon's Ferocious Fairy Tales."
NYTheatre.com,http://www.nytheatre.com/ (July 8, 2002), Martin Denton, review of Play Yourself.
Shotgun Players Web site,http://www.shotgunplayers.org/ (July 21, 1999).
Theatre Zone Web site,http://www.theatrezone.org/ (November 7, 2002), review of Self-Torture and Strenuous Exercise.
Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1994, p. 6.
New York Times, March 17, 1994, p. D21.
Washington Post, March 21, 1994, p. D5.*