The death of Fidel Castro automatically brings The Life of Juanita Castro — written by Ronnie and film by Andy — to mind
A playwright (Tavel) taunts a number of actresses into improvising a play on Fidel Castro and his family, at a time when the revolution was bringing back disquieting stories of executions and imprisonments and, particularly, virulent hatred and torture of homosexuals in Cuba.
Several of the play’s male characters (Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Che Guevara) are played by women. The actresses face a camera they believe is filming them, while in fact they are being filmed by another camera placed off to one side. At times they are directed by Tavel to perform pointless acts in unison. According to reviewer Tom Vick, the film “rewrites history as a high-camp farce,” poking fun at machismo and totalitarianism
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Tavel graduated from Brooklyn College and later attended the University of Wyoming, where he earned a Master’s degree in creative writing in 1959.Tavel worked as a screenwriter during the 1960s for many of Andy Warhol’s underground films including Chelsea Girls. Tavel worked with other members of Warhol’s Factory crowd, including Freddie Herko, Ondine, Mary Woronov, Billy Name, and Brigid Berlin. He also received the Obie Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theater in 1969, for the musical drama Boy On the Straight-Back Chair.
Tavel later founded, named, and was heavily involved with the Playhouse of the Ridiculous, a New York City theatre presenting works produced and directed by John Vaccaro, Harvey Tavel, and Charles Ludlam. Tavel provided the one-sentence manifesto for The Theatre of the Ridiculous: “We have passed beyond the Absurd: our position is absolutely preposterous.”
In 1975, Tavel was appointed Artist-in-Residence to The Yale University Divinity School or his contributions to formal theology and religious theatre (notably, the Obie-Award winning play Bigfoot). In 1977, he was re-appointed to that position for the three-act play Gazelle Boy.
In 1980, he was appointed the First Playwright-in-Residence at Cornell University where he was commissioned to write the melodrama, The Understudy, directed and designed by Michael Hillyer, which starred a young Jimmy Smits. In 1986, Tavel was appointed Distinguished Visiting Assistant Professor in Creative Writing at The University of Colorado at Boulder.
On March 23, 2009, Tavel died of a heart attack on a flight from Berlin to Bangkok at the age of 73. Tavel had lived in Bangkok for twelve years
Ronnie was without question the most important of Andy’s artistic collaborators during the 1960’s. His scripts made possible such classics as Vinyl, Horse, Screen Test, Hedy and The Life of Juanita Castro. His Warhol years served as a springboard for later Off=Broadway productions of such key Tavel plays as as Gorilla Queen, The Boy in the Straight-Back Chair, and Arenas of Lutetia
Lou and John will sing us out wih one of their odes to Andy