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Innaurato, Albert (b. 1948)  
 
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Benno is, in ways, the antithesis of Franz Kafka's "The Hunger Artist" who starves himself because he cannot find the food that satisfies him.

The Second Stage of Innaurato's Career

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In interviews, Innaurato has repeatedly expressed his frustration with the disappearance of a serious audience composed of "people who love the theatre and have the habit of going to the theatre and are enthusiastic about the theatre and make up their own minds" rather than rely upon professional critics who are only too willing to impose their personal tastes on audiences unable to form an independent opinion. Not surprisingly, the plays written following the success of Gemini meditate on the nature of theater and performance, in particular a playwright's inability to connect with his audience, a concern that marks the second stage of Innaurato's career.

In Ulysses in Traction (1978), a university drama department in race-torn Detroit attempts to rehearse a play about the Vietnam War as a campus social protest march disintegrates into a riot outside the theater. The personal lives of the actors and production staff increasingly overlap with the characters in the play being rehearsed, raising questions about the relation between truth and acting. As the riot threatens to invade the fortress-like theater building, Innaurato challenges commercial theater's immuring itself from the real world when theater should be at the center of any social revolution.

Passione (1980), a screwball comedy set in a chaotic Italian-American household in south Philadelphia, is an absurdist reimagining of George Kaufman and Moss Hart's You Can't Take It with You (1936). Innaurato's continued faith in the ridiculous is manifest in a scene in which the Fat Lady from an urban circus wrestles for the soul of her husband with a Baptist zealot who lost three fingers in a farm accident. Innaurato's comic existentialism in Passione has grown lighter since Benno Blimpie, for here eating is no longer an act of despair but a celebratory affirmation of life.

Coming of Age in Soho (1985) is Innaurato's most specifically gay-themed play. Aged thirty-six, Beatrice Dante is a writer whose early first novel, Little Boy Bound, continues to command a cult following. Unfortunately, he has been unable to write anything new since then. Determined to start his life and career afresh, he has left his wife in Philadelphia and moved to New York City's bohemian Soho district to begin work on a new novel.

Circumstances force him to reevaluate his bondage fantasies that involve teenaged boys. In the process he unbinds himself emotionally, growing able finally to accept and offer love and presumably, as a consequence, to write a second book.

Innaurato's disappointment with the lukewarm reception with which Coming of Age met is addressed directly in Gus and Al (1988). Devastated by the reviews that his last play received, an impoverished, self-pitying playwright named "Al Innaurato" is transported (in a time travel machine invented by an orangutan named Kafka) to the drawing room of composer Gustav Mahler in 1901 Vienna, where he commiserates with the great composer who is similarly pained by his contemporaries' dismissal of his work.

The rising anti-semitism feared by members of the Mahler household in Gus and Al parallels the threat that homosexuals like Innaurato feared in 1980s New York City in the face of the AIDS epidemic. In the end Gus and Al agree that "whatever happens, we must all swear to keep fighting, to offer up our sufferings and work and work until we are spent, regardless of what the world thinks. After all, only to have been alive once, that is enough."

Although Innaurato himself did continue working, neither Magda and Callas (1989) nor Dreading Thekla (Williamstown Theater Festival, 1997) was well received. No evidence is available of a production of the play-in-progress titled Life after Sex, that Innaurato refers to in a 1999 interview.

"Operas without music"

Like Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, Innaurato's characters are driven by the need to satisfy their appetites. "I want, I want, I want," Henderson's heart seems to shout as it beats within his chest. In Gemini the irrepressible Fran chastises a neighbor who picks gingerly from the food spread out on the table: "Take! Take with both hands, it's there, why you act like there ain't plenty when there is, hanh?"

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