José Quintero: Engaged And Seduced

Photograph by Carl Van Vechten

Tenn in Conversation
New Orleans

Early in my career, there were certain erudite directors who admonished their peers for their longueurs. I was not erudite so I did not know that they were criticizing those directors who loved long pauses; who did not understand pacing; who did not realize the level of panic that needs to reside just beneath the surface of any play. José Quintero was wonderful, a great director: sensitive and funny and wise and fast. There were no longueurs with him, at least not until he succumbed to [Eugene] O'Neill, where everything is a studied longueur. José used to say that the play was a train, and we had boarded, and we knew where we were going, so we might excuse a slight delay at certain stations, but before the sighing and the complaining began, we needed to feel the car lurch and move forward. Ah, travel! he would exclaim. I think writers need to write out of a panic that they don't have the attention of the reader for very long, so a point must be made. I think dancers understand that their lives--their careers--are short, and there are only so many days and so many variations, so truly, attention must be paid, and the movement made now! Thrust the story forward, keep the audience engaged and seduced. Time is wasting all around us. It cannot be wasted in art. I know that [Elia] Kazan believed this, but it was José, that warm, volatile Panamanian, laden with good cheer and holy medals and cologne and urgency, who made the point most clearly.


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