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Innaurato, Albert (b. 1948)  
 
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Unfortunately, while Benno Blimpie played to capacity houses for months, it was in a theater that had only seventy-five seats, and Innaurato made little money from the production. When a Guggenheim Fellowship for which McNally had recommended him ran out, Innaurato was forced to support himself through a series of menial jobs as he struggled to complete his next play.

In 1976 Innaurato was at his lowest ebb emotionally when a medical condition (which had first manifested itself while he was at Yale) recurred and left him with sizable medical bills. He was able to complete Gemini only after the timely arrival of a Rockefeller Foundation grant.

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Gemini proved one of the dramatic hits of the decade. It moved from a low budget production at Playwrights Horizons (1976) to a limited run at the Circle Repertory Theater (1977), and from Circle Rep to a highly successful run of 1,819 performances on Broadway (1977-81). It was subsequently made into a film titled Happy Birthday, Gemini (1980, directed by Richard Benner), and in 2006 was briefly reincarnated as Gemini: The Musical, with a book by Innaurato and music by Charles Gilbert.

Unfortunately, despite their striking originality and mordant humor, none of Innaurato's subsequent plays enjoyed as great a success.

The Early Plays

Innaurato's early plays display a Charles Ludlum-like delight in the ridiculous. The Idiots Karamazov (first produced at Yale in 1973) conflates Dostoyevsky's Karamazov family with the Tyrones of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night--in particular, Katharine Hepburn's film interpretation of the opium-addicted Mary--and infuses the mix with the absurdist delights of such popular cultural icons as the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, and American theater's then-obsession with the plays of Anton Chekhov. In the earliest version of the play, Innaurato himself "substituted" for the supposed star, an ailing Dame Edith Evans, in the central role of Russian literature translator Constance Garnett--a part subsequently assumed by a young Meryl Streep.

Earth Worms (1974) places on stage a blind woman preoccupied with killing cockroaches, an elderly former college professor who dresses in elaborate nineteenth-century female costumes, a couple covered with the blood of worms they squish while rolling about naked in a cemetery, and three nuns rendered faceless by their wimples who scourge a near-naked young man for his sexual transgressions.

Innaurato's satire of the behavior of Roman Catholic clerics continues in Urlicht (1974), in which Mother Superior Mary Martha Lazarus supports her impoverished convent by taking the only job for which she is qualified: descending into the bowels of the New York City subway system to club rats. During the course of the play, the nun emotionally brutalizes a young man waiting on the subway platform as cruelly as she clubs the rats that infest the tracks. The play is indebted to Edward Albee's The Zoo Story (1960) and clearly anticipates Durang's Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All to You (1981).

In Wisdom Amok (no date available), a priest who is sexually attracted to altar boys crashes the wake of a twelve-year-old girl, whom he mistakes for his dead younger brother. Having disturbed the already distraught family by kissing and passionately fondling the corpse, he is sent by his bishop to a convalescence home to serve as the chaplain to a group of insane nuns presided over by a hunchbacked, sex-crazed Mother Superior (reminiscent of the role undertaken by Vanessa Redgrave in director Ken Russell's 1971 film, The Devils). In a dark parody of the Roman Catholic belief that during the celebration of the Eucharist the host and wine are transformed by the priest into the actual body and blood of Christ, which are then consumed by the communicants, the mad nuns devour the bodies of still-living males--including that of Father Augustine--with sadomasochistic glee.

Innaurato's extraordinary The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie reveals the existential mystery that is at the heart of the playwright's engagement with the ridiculous. Rejected by his family who are disgusted by his morbid obesity, and gang-raped by a sadistic group of thugs on a school playground one night, the four-hundred-pound Benno nails shut the windows and door of a rented room and, no longer able to satisfy his gnawing appetite with foodstuff, prepares to consume his own flesh.

Innaurato says of The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie that "Blimpie is meant to be a vision or a version of a certain kind of artist who burns out and dies into his art. Blimpie is a failed artist who is unable to make any of the connections that you need to make in order to survive in a career. And what happens when your art meets a dead end? You either give up entirely or you start becoming your art, you start consuming, you start becoming your art to the point that your art is consuming you, and that's really what he does. His death becomes his final work of art. . . ."

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