David Rothenberg: An Open Mind

In that brief period of time I spent with Tennessee Williams, he made a list for me of those people he felt I should meet or emulate or to whom I should send his regards. The list was predominated by actresses, and included directors, fellow playwrights, a handful of designers, and precisely one press agent: David Rothenberg.

Why? During the "fervid, toxic, amber-hued nightmare" that was the production of Slapstick Tragedy in 1966, Tennessee found comfort and a "sly wisdom" in what he called the dark, kind presence of the show's press agent. "I found," Tenn told me, "that I could scan his face and realize if I was askew or astray, and I kept looking toward him, even if I could not always recall his name. I could always recall his presence, and it is the presence of an honest man."

I finally met David Rothenberg in 1991, when he served as the press agent for Lucifer's Child, William Luce's play about Isak Dinesen, and which starred Julie Harris. Harris was one of Tenn's favorite actresses, a kind and delicate person on whom he called literally and metaphorically when he was most in trouble. Rothenberg arranged for me to see the play several times, and he escorted me to my interview with Harris at the Hotel Wyndham. He was everything Tenn told me he would be: honest and kind and devoted to seeing that the productions on which he worked were "maximized and given to those most in need of it."

Rothenberg has now written a book, a memoir not only of his life, but of a theatre that no longer exists, and of  causes that are unlikely to have so passionate a citizen again. Entitled Fortune in My Eyes (Applause; $29.99),  I highly recommend it.

For those who want to know about the tough and talented people with whom Rothenberg has worked, you will be sated. For those who want to discover precisely what drew him to work with the Fortune Society and its Herculean efforts to improve the lives of those presently and formerly incarcerated, you may find yourself compelled to travel a road that Rothenberg's friend Elizabeth Taylor described as "lonely and lovely and paved by David. David is in the game to remove the shackles from the mind as well as the ankles and the wrists. He has an open mind."

We are not likely to live in a world populated by too many people like David Rothenberg, and this book affords an intense visit with the man and the causes that have animated him. I cannot really call the book a theatrical memoir: It is more like a call to action.


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