|Tito Goya, Felipe Torres.
Shocking for its time, Short Eyes is a nearly
documentary drama of life in the dayroom of a New York City prison, written by
a Puerto Rican ex-convict. It was first produced Off Broadway by a workshop
group made up of other ex-cons called “The Family.” Its leader was director
Marvin Felix Camillo. Joseph Papp moved it from its Off-Off mounting at the
Theatre of the Riverside Church to a showing at the Public. He then startled his subscription audience at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in the
pristine surroundings of Lincoln Center, where the play's vulgar language, deviant
sexual behavior, and violent action proved deeply unsettling.
|Robert Maroff, H. Richard Young.
A richly ambiguous play given a brilliantly veristic interpretation by a company that practically lived the story, Short Eyes paraded a diverse assortment of prisoners across the stage. Most were Black or Hispanic, but the white convict, Murphy (Joseph Carberry), and the newly admitted Clark Davis (William Carden), an alleged child molester, were central. Murphy sides with the insecure white prisoner against the darker-skinned thugs until he learns what Davis’s crime was.
Child molestation is considered by the
inmates the worst crime possible, one that instantly makes Davis a pariah among
outcasts. Only Juan (Bimbo), a saintly Puerto Rican convict, shows him any
compassion, although he, too, despises this “short eyes” (slang for child
molester). Ultimately, the men gang up on Davis, and Murphy slits his throat.
|Joseph Carberry, William Carden.
There is never a
clear-cut case against the confused “Short Eyes,” for Pinero neither definitely
establishes his guilt nor denies it. Pinero’s closely observed junkies,
thieves, and murderers, his realistic and profane language, his striking
confrontations, and his hangman’s humor made Short Eyes one of the most respected examples of its genre.
|Hollis Barnes, Bimbo, Kenny Steward, Johnny Johnson, Tito Goya, Joseph Carberry, Robert Maroff, Ben Jefferson, Felipe Torres.
“His dialogue sizzles
with truth,” wrote Clive Barnes, who was enthralled by the plotting,
authenticity, and honesty. According to Walter Kerr, this otherwise powerful
slice of jailhouse life was too close to its sources, lacking the objectivity
to view them with unimpeded artistry: “it is the fact not the form that counts.”
“Every harrowing moment of it bears the stamp of passionate feeling.” But John
Simon considered it “effective theatre, well put together, tightly acted, and
staged with forcefulness and variety.”
|Bimbo, Joseph Carberry.
negative responses came from Stanley Kauffmann, who accused the play of being too
similar to a host of TV, film, and theatrical works depicting life behind bars.
Short Eyes won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and OBIE,
while Miguel Pinero was given a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New
Playwright. Camillo won both an OBIE and a Drama Desk Award for his direction,
while David Mitchell walked off with a Drama Desk Award for his set design.