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A chair center stage against a bare wall in need of plastering that could be the back wall of a theater, or anywhere. Rear-screen projections— hard to make out from some seats— are supposed to remind the audience of events that were contemporaneous to Tynan's diary entries.
Kenneth Peacock Tynan, born in Birmingham, England in 1927, was the illegitimate son of a successful businessman and a theatre-loving mother. While at Oxford, where he quickly became something of a celebrity, often wearing a skin-tight purple suit, he participated in theater and in debate. But it was his tutor, C. S. Lewis, a medievalist and author of The Chronicles of Narnia, who was the first to recognize Tynan's literary talent as well as his proclivity for depression. In Tynan's diaries and the play that includes his not-so-private thoughts, Tynan acknowledges Lewis's role in showing him how to live as well as write.
After Oxford, Tynan's highly intelligent thoughts and deft word play as a drama critic (off the page he stuttered) led to his being described by the literati of the day as the greatest theater critic since George Bernard Shaw. He was also a celebrity, a socialist, an anti-bourgeois provocateur, a devotee of sexual games — and above all, a wicked-tongued wit. When asked to describe the difference between the mistress he liked to spank and the wife who he professed to love and with whom he had two children, he answered that his mistress was "like curry" and his wife, "French cuisine."
Tynan's influence on 20th century theatere was felt not just in his criticism. He was one of the founders of London's National Theatre, he championed plays with socialist and sexual themes, and he challenged censorship by the Lord Chamberlin, until that post was abolished in 1968. He wrote lengthy (and profitable) profiles of legendary English actors Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson. Tynan was also the mastermind of what was billed as "elegant erotica," a collection of scenes, many nude, written by several authors called Oh, Calcutta! For its day, it was a revolutionary piece that lead to a debate on what is and what is not tasteful. (T"his is the kind of show to give pornography a bad name," wrote critic Clive Barnes).
Poor health, emphysema mostly, and the need for work led Tynan to emigrate from England to California, where he died in 1980. While in California he developed writer's block. As he put it "I've been working non-start since January.", He did keep the diaries on which this solo play is based. As insightful, amusing, name-dropping, and self-revealing as those diaries are, they are not Tynan's best writing. For that you would have to look up his pieces in the New Yorker, his letters to his second wife Kathleen, and collections of his essays and reviews.
The diary entries are presented by actor Philip Goodwin in a somewhat subdued performance but, given that Tynan was such a flamboyant and often outrageous person, they are of interest — not just because Tynan was a theater giant but because he was such a complex human being who had no fear in saying what he wanted to say and doing what he wanted to do.