[ilds] “my mentor,” playwright and novelist Lawrence Durrell

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Wed Jun 23 10:00:29 PDT 2010

> The Villager
> Volume 80, Number 4 | June 23 - 29, 2010
> http://www.thevillager.com/villager_374/pausetopraise.html
> Pause to praise a playwright named (Wendy) Beckett
> Theatrical snapshot of photographer reveals ‘what makes a revolutionary’
> Wendy Beckett lays it on the line.  “I like writing about bad girls,” 
> she says. Women artist-rebels, that is — daring pattern-breakers like 
> poet Anais Nin and, now, photographer Tina Modotti.
> Photographer and much more. Early convert to Communism. Lover of many 
> men, most of them organized or disorganized Communists themselves. 
> Close friend and possible lover of famed Mexican muralist Diego 
> Rivera. A runaway in her teens — from her birthplace in Italy’s Undine 
> region — Modotti at 28, in 1924, then ran away from Hollywood (where 
> she’d had roles in “The Tiger’s Coat” and a couple of other silent 
> films) to politically seething, exciting Mexico.
> By then she’d already been taught the rudiments of photography by 
> another of her lovers, the no less-famed Edward Weston — whose 
> photographic portrait of the naked Tina is still today a classic on a 
> par with Weston’s sexually implicit black-and-whiter still-life 
> studies of ordinary everyday green or red Mexican peppers.
> To Weston, art is art. To Tina, it goes beyond that.
> “Art is combative now, Edward,” she tells him (in words by Wendy 
> Beckett). “Art makes a difference in people’s lives here, yes, but 
> politics expresses their needs. Art and politics are not mutually 
> exclusive. In photography we have the most direct means for fixing, 
> for registering the present epoch. We have to do what we can, when we 
> can.”
> Modotti’s own work with the camera started with babies and flowers, 
> but soon went on to more revolutionary subjects — like a workers’ May 
> Day parade viewed as a river of wide-brimmed Mexican hats. She also 
> was sort of the official photographer of the murals of Rivera and Jose 
> Clemente Orozco.
> In 1936, with several of her lovers dead, Modotti left Mexico for 
> Spain — where she served as a nurse on the Loyalist side throughout 
> the Spanish Civil War.
> In 1942, back in Mexico, she died of a heart attack, or maybe not a 
> heart attack (the cause of death has never been resolved).
> It was, in any event, a colorful life — and tall, skinny, red-headed 
> Australian-born Wendy Beckett has poured a goodly share of it into her 
> “Modotti,” directed by the playwright in its world premiere.
> This is the second play by Wendy Beckett to be staged in New York. The 
> first, four years ago, at the (Samuel) Beckett Theatre — “Isn’t that 
> strange?” — on the same block, was “Anais Nin: One of Her Lives,” 
> about a creative woman of more delicate if no less revolutionary stamp.
> “I’m writing a series of plays about interesting artistic women,” says 
> Wendy Beckett, who classifies herself as “quite a feminist.” And, yes, 
> she not only is distantly related to Samuel Beckett, she says, but met 
> him and talked with him on the phone and in person one summer in the 
> South of France. But except for a batch of plays with Beckettian 
> one-word titles (“Charity,” “Yankaway,” “Gross,” “Regression”), she 
> does not write like him.
> Then again, who does?
> This Beckett is interested in “artistic women — not just vacuous 
> creatures but full-fledged intellectuals and artists. I want to 
> discover what makes a revolutionary — and also what makes someone like 
> Tina take on the issues of a country other than their own, and be 
> prepared to die for it…because she was.”
> If Samuel Beckett was Irish through and through, Wendy Beckett — whose 
> biological mother was a German Jew — grew up in Adelaide, Australia, 
> as the adopted daughter of Roman Catholics from Ireland.
> Her first published short story was in the Reader’s Digest in 1976, 
> and she’s been working the room, so to speak, ever since. Early 
> accomplishments include writing seven radio plays for WABC and 
> starting her own theater company, Colours Inc., in Adelaide at 22.
> A helping hand along the way came from “my mentor,” playwright and 
> novelist Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990), who knew Sam Beckett and Henry 
> Miller and Anais Nin and practically everybody else. There was also a 
> helping hand from “one of my boyfriends,” William Shawcross — the 
> biographer of Rupert Murdoch, Queen Elizabeth, and practically 
> everybody else.
> Wendy Beckett has an old shoebox in which the saves clippings and 
> other “scraps of paper” about people she may want to write about, “so 
> I already knew about Tina Modotti for ten years.”
> Ms. Beckett now divides her residency between Australia and New York. 
> “I love New York!” She has a husband — but often not in the same city 
> or country” — educational publisher Matthew Sandblom. And, from 
> Thailand, adopted daughter Connie, now 7.
> Early in the play, Tina Modotti exclaims: “I would like a wife!” to do 
> the cooking, cleaning, sewing, tending, etc. “Yes, I think I should 
> advertise for a wife so that I can get on with my art without all 
> these ‘life’ interruptions.”
> Neither Tina Modotti nor Wendy Beckett is the first woman, artist or 
> not, who ever ached for just that. 

Charles L. Sligh
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
charles-sligh at utc.edu

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