Born 26 November 1926, New York, New York
Also writes under: Julia Sorel
Daughter of George and Hilda Sherman Bronznick; married Sherman Drexler, 1946; children : one daughter, one son
Rosalyn Drexler, who writes under both her own name and her pseudonym Julia Sorel, offers readers plays and novels that share pathos and satiric wit, mundaneness and magic, comedy and the blunt grimness of newspaper tragedy. She describes her feminist blend of "reality and fantasy" as "in the tradition of the Russian absurdists/surrealists such as Zamyatin, Gogol, and Bulgakov." Her writing is structured by plot development motivated by character, located in a world like ours—though the rules differ, and characters sometimes follow the spotlight or turn into angels. Drexler's drama has been well received critically, and three of her plays (Home Movies, 1967; The Writer's Opera, 1979; Transients Welcome, 1984) were awarded Obies. Her short story "Dear" won a Paris Review humor prize (1966), and in 1974 she received an Emmy Award for writing a television special for comedian Lily Tomlin. Drexler has been the recipient of fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation (1965, 1968, 1974, 1986), Guggenheim Foundation (1970), and Yaddo (1980); she has also received grants from the NEA (1989, 1991), the New York Foundation for the Arts (1990), and the New York State Commission on the Arts (1993). Her creative interest in both literature and art has led to membership in numerous dramatic and theatrical organizations, including the Dramatists Guild, the New York Theatre Strategy, and Actors Studio.
Drexler's artistic versatility has translated into a successful career as a painter. She has presented one-women art shows at New York and Boston galleries, among others, and has been a part of group shows in such prestigious venues as the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum. Her visual work Rosalyn Drexler: Intimate Emotions appeared in the Grey Art Gallery at New York University in 1986. In addition to her own creative outlets, Drexler employs her critical and scholarly command by contributing to such periodicals as Esquire, Village Voice, and Mademoiselle, and by reviewing films for Vogue.
Largely self-educated, Drexler has worked as a wrestler, singer, college teacher, director, and sculptor; as well as a noted painter. All of these occupations are preoccupations to her writing, which she describes as "very much concerned with the artist, creativity, and the relationship of the artist to life," with "human relationships" and questions of "what is real life and who's trying to squelch it."
Critics have compared her to the Marx Brothers (whose movies she saw as a child), commenting on her honesty and the playfulness of her sight gags, song, silliness, and puns. But Drexler's writing is not just farcical, as critics who have likened her to Kafka, Joyce, and Pynchon recognize. Drexler "loves Beckett" and Ionesco, and her worlds' darker ironies and isolation reflect this. Her irreverence is iconoclastic. Her use of stream-of-consciousness reveals characters who are not having fun, whose desires lead only to loss. Her writing focuses on the theatricality of life, the ways characters script each other and adopt roles, revealing in the process that much of human identity is artificial and implying that these roles are inadequate or damaging.
Verbal and physical violence are also important technical and thematic issues in Drexler's work, animating her interest in dysfunctional families, gender relations, and the impact of the arts and media. Her later work includes Bad Guy (1982, 1988), a novel about a therapist who uses dream interpretation and psychodrama to treat a teenage rapist/murderer whose role models have all been television characters.
Drexler's work is art and entertainment, and her characters resemble circus grotesques, paradoxically evoking tenderness and laughter. Her style is both compassionate toward them and merciless in detailing their lives. These criminals and victims, healers and patients, social misfits and apparently normal characters—whose psychological deformities and scars Drexler reveals—are both archetypal and idiosyncratic. Her writing is memorable for these characters and their wordplay; it is poignant when we see them achieve a momentary self-awareness or transcend their fragmentation in an act of intimacy or kindness—perhaps because the meanings of self and action remain ambiguous.
Drexler's writing is almost always political. The point of view is often feminist, as when she focuses on the commodification of the female body (Line of Least Existence, 1967; Cosmopolitan Girl, 1975) or mythologizes male rule as the rape/murder of a queen who incarnates her country (She Who Was He, 1973). But Drexler's social critiques are broader than any label, ranging from parodies of class and racial stereotypes and witty indictments of commercialism, materialism, and egotism to trenchant satire of such topical issues as the American involvement in Panama (Cara Piña, 1992).
I Am the Beautiful Stranger (1965). The Investigation & Hot Buttered Roll (1967). One or Another (1970). To Smithereens (1972). Starburn: The Story of Jenni Love (1979). Art Does (Not!) Exist (1996). Dear (1997).
Fiction as Julia Sorel: Unwed Widow (1975). Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976). Rocky (1976). Alex: The Other Side of Dawn (1977). See How She Runs (1978).
Essays, short stories and essays in Arts & Antiques, Black Ice, Esquire, Los Angeles Times, Mademoiselle, Ms., New American Revue, New York Times, Paris Revue, Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Village Voice, Viva and others.
Included in the following anthologies: Theater Experiment (1967), Collision Course (1968), The Off-Off Broadway Book (1972), 100 Monologues (1989), Women on the Verge (1993), From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Drama, 1960-1995 (1998).
Unpublished plays in Drexler's possession (dates are for first production): The Ice Queen (1965). Was I Good? (1972). Vulgar Lives (1979). The Writer's Opera (1979) Graven Image (1980). The Mandrake (1983). Starburn (1983). Delicate Feelings (1984). A Matter of Life and Death (1986). The Heart That Eats Itself (1987). The Flood (1992).
Abraham, T. T., "Carnivalesque and American Women Dramatists of the Sixties." (dissertation, 1990). Betsko, K., and R. Koenig, Interviews with Contemporary Women Playwrights (1987). Brown, J., Feminist Drama: Definition and Critical Analysis (1979). Dasgupta, G., and B. Maranca, eds., American Playwrights: A Critical Survey (1981). Gottfried, M., A Theater Divided: The Postwar American Stage (1967). Keyssar, H., Feminist Theatre (1984). Sontag, S., "Going to Theater, Etc." in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1966).
American Women Dramatists of the Twentieth Century (1982). CA (1979, 1999). CD (1988). CLC (1974, 1976). Notable Women in the American Theater (1989). .
American Theatre (1993). Art in America 74 (Nov. 1986). Art News (March 1964; interview, Jan. 1971). george jr. (1996). Mademoiselle (interview, Aug. 1972). Massachusetts Review (interview, Winter 1972). New Yorker (23 May 1964). NYT (interview, 27 Feb. 1978). Plays and Players 17 (April 1970). PW (1996). Theater (Winter 1985)
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