Saturday, September 23, 2006

Mapplethorpe: The Opening (Brian Quirk)

Gay actor/playwright Brian Quirk cordially invites the community of San Diego to be his very special guest at his show called Mapplethorpe: The Opening currently playing at the Sixth@Penn Theatre in Hillcrest. It’s a solo piece and Brian has indeed challenged himself by writing over forty characters for this production. The play was inspired by Robert Mapplethorpe’s first photo “art” show. Quirk tells us that you may feel like a retro 70s visitor rubbing shoulders with the likes of Diana Vreeland, Andy Warhol, Patti Smith and others. It’s a walk back into time before the Sheriffs in Cincinnati began ordering the closure of art exhibits.

The subject of Quirk’s play, Robert Mapplethorpe, was most famous for his black and white nude portraits that many deemed offensive or shocking, but were applauded for their balance and perfection. He was born on November 4, 1946 in New York City and died 43 years later of Aids. Mapplethorpe studied at the Pratt Institute. He began taking Polaroids of himself; then moved on to pictures of friends, many discovered in the S&M underground. His oeuvre was filled with photographs of the unexpected, pictures he felt an obligation to take and share with the world.

I spoke to Brian between rehearsals for the show, still sounding chipper in spite of the fact that he had picked up his sound man at Lindberg Field flying in from a New York at one in the morning.

Cuauhtemoc Q. Kish: How did you get the inspiration for your one-man show, Mapplethorpe: The Opening?

Brian Quirk (BQ): I was browsing inside the Strand Book Store in New York and was struck by the images in this astounding book of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe. His many provocative art portraits jumped out at me; they not only titillated and aroused, but made me more curious about the individuals within the many captivating images. I wanted to get inside their heads; I wanted to feel where they were coming from.

CQK: How long have these images remained with you and how long have you been developing this project?

BQ: I completed the first draft in 1992 after working on the play for about nine months.

CQK: Sounds like it was the birth of your first artistic child; was it an easy birth?

BQ: It has taken over a decade to get it to the place where it is now and I’m happy to say that the “long labor” appears to be worth the effort.

CQK: With Mapplethorpe’s reputation still fairly vivid and alive, do you expect your audience to be inspired or assaulted with the work?

BQ: There is no doubt that members of community, both gay and straight, could be repulsed by some of the images depicted in his art. With that being said, however, his body of work “as an artist” still speaks the loudest. His photography is a bit of genius and should be available to the world community.

CQK: Many of Mapplethorpe’s pictures show an S&M world without restraint. Will your play depict this same kind of imagery?

BQ: I initially started with a sort of picture exercise for approximately 60 characters. I walked through a process of trying to recreate the exact physical moment when these same individuals visited Mapplethorpe’s first show. I tried to visualize the lighting, the people sharing space in that same room; all of the factors that would lend themselves to the recreation of the moment when that photograph was taken. This recreation of a moment in time is what I hope the play will depict.

CQK: So it’s like a walk down 1970’s Memory Lane so to speak?

BQ: Yes; the only thing that I orchestrated was a chronological order for these visitors.

Brian worked on the piece through the years with his mentor, John Sticks, a brilliant director who died of a massive heart attack recently. Sticks had planned on being here in San Diego for the opening at the Sixth@Penn Theatre and it’s obvious that Brian misses his mentor tremendously. Sticks’ many suggestions on the project pushed Brian to the successful completion of Mapplethorpe and Stick’s magic remains very much a part of this project.

CQK: You’ve had the pleasure of working with the late, great John Sticks.

BQ: John Sticks, a very discreet gay gentleman and director, is still speaking to me. Even though he’s not physically here with me in San Diego, his presence is clearly felt.
I call him my Zen Master of playwriting. He’s provided me with such positive and insightful direction on this play I could never offer him enough thanks. Luckily at the time he died he had already gifted me with enough guidance and encouragement that I was able to complete this work on my own. I know that John would be so proud of our collaborative effort.

CQK: How did you first meet John Sticks?

BQ: John and I first worked with one another while he directed me in a play called “Clicks.” It was at a festival of one-acts and I played the part of a gay individual who kills a ‘gay basher.’ From this collaborative effort our friendship developed and grew over the years. He was a great friend and mentor and I miss him terribly.

CQK: You’ve done this show in Provincetown and a few other places. How did your audience embrace the play and has it changed as a result of that journey?

BQ: I’ve performed the show in New York at the Women’s Project in September and after that in Provincetown and the audiences have been very encouraging. I’ve tweaked it a bit since those performances, but nothing major.

CQK: The grumbling echoes of censorship can still be felt when they closed his show in Washington D.C. and other areas many years ago. Have you experienced any negative response from the pubic to date?

CQK: You need to realize that the show will not display Robert Mapplethorpe’s shocking photographs, however, one theatre which shall remain nameless, after reading the script, refused to allow us the opportunity to even present the show. Although some may have a visceral response to the play, I don’t think it’s offensive at all.

CQK: Do you have anything else on the back burner, as a writer?

BQ: I am currently putting together another play called “Crash.” It’s about obsession.

CQK: Speaking of writing, you seemed to have arrived in San Diego through a personal as well as professional connection with Athol Fugard, the playwright?

BQ: I was acting in Fugard’s “Hello and Good-bye” in New York and while performing it at the Rattlestick Playwright’s Theatre, unbeknownst to me, he saw the production and was very complimentary about my performance. I eventually sought guidance from him as well and he referred me to Dale Morris of the Sixth@Penn Theatre while funding for the production was made possible through Marianne MacDonald, a professor and author at UCSD.

Brian Quirk knows that it is the connection we have with special people in our lives that leads us to wonderment and discovery. Just like his connection to stellar individuals like John Sticks and Athol Fugard, Robert Mapplethorpe influenced countless individuals in his life, many who will be depicted in Quirk’s show, Mapplethorpe: The Opening.

Quirk has come a long way from his birthplace in Midland, Michigan some 38 years ago.
His love of acting brought him to New York in 1984, where he got his BSA degree in Theatre. He’s been an actor for those many years and you may have seen this good-looking thespian in “A Little Night Music,” the Turnip Festival, or on soap operas like the Guiding Light, As The World Turns, or All My Children. With the help of Lance Horn, who will do the sound for the show; with the help of his mentor John Sticks, the director, and with his own brand of talent, Mapplethorpe promises to be a show worth visiting, shocking or not.

(Mapplethorpe: The Opening plays at the Sixth@Penn Theatre thru February 23; call 619-688-9210 for ticket information (late night shows on Fridays and Saturdays available as well).

(PICS can be found through San Diego Theatre Scene ( ); I’ve asked Dale Morris to provide you either a site for the PICS or to send them over to you immediately. If you can’t find them, his email is


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