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Hoffman, William M. (b. 1939)  
 
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In collaboration with John Braden, Hoffman also worked on two musical reviews, A Book of Etiquette (1978), which spoofs high-society manners, and Gulliver's Travels (1978), based on the Jonathan Swift novel.

As Is

It was not until 1985, however, with the production of As Is, that Hoffman achieved wide critical acclaim and recognition.

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The idea for As Is originated in the early 1980s, as Hoffman explains in the introduction to the published version of his play, when he began hearing of a "mysterious new disease attacking gay men." At first he thought the initial accounts of the illness were absurd—"a disease capable of distinguishing between homo- and heterosexual men?"—but his concern grew as increasingly more gay men of his acquaintance succumbed to the disease.

Hoffman became infuriated with the silence and seeming lack of interest by various government organizations and the mainstream media about the growing AIDS crisis. "In the early 'eighties," Hoffman explained, "with few exceptions, the main concern of people outside the gay community was reassuring themselves that it was only happening to 'them,' and not to 'us.' I felt isolated from society in a way I never had before." As a result, and as a "sort of therapy," Hoffman began writing scenes for a new play, which eventually became As Is.

At the center of the play are Rich, a gay writer dying of AIDS, and Saul, his former lover who returns to care for him. Hoffman also includes a cross-section of characters, representing friends, family, fellow AIDS patients, and members of the medical community, all played by a small group of actors, which serves as an overseeing, and at times interacting, chorus.

The play opened on March 10, 1985. It was directed by Marshall W. Mason and produced by The Glines, a gay theater production company, in association with Circle Repertory, a theater company founded by, among others, Lanford Wilson. Two months later it was transferred to a Broadway production and was nominated for several Tony Awards, including Best Play, and won the 1985 Drama Desk and Obie awards for outstanding new production.

The play is a deeply compassionate work, driven by outrage and anger, yet Hoffman's writing never gives way to overindulgence or mawkishness. As the New York Times theater critic Mel Gussow noted in his review, Hoffman "found exactly the appropriate tone for his subject, a dramaturgical equivalent of the title of the play. He leads us to view the disease, its victims (actual and potential), and its survivors as is, without a gloss of self-pity or sentimentality."

The following year Hoffman adapted the play for a television production, which was first broadcast on the subscriber network Showtime, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and starring Robert Carradine, Jonathan Hadary (re-creating his stage role as Saul), and Colleen Dewhurst.

The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned a new work from the composer John Corigliano, which was scheduled to debut as part of the company's centennial anniversary in 1983. That work eventually emerged as the highly-praised opera in two acts, The Ghosts of Versailles.

Corigliano chose Hoffman, with whom he had collaborated on several earlier musical pieces, as his librettist and the two men worked on the opera for some seven years, missing their initial deadline. They took as their starting point the third of Beaumarchais's "Figaro" plays, La Mère coupable (The Guilty Mother), written in 1792; the first two plays, Le Barbier de Séville and Le Mariage de Figaro, served as source material for renowned operas by Rossini and Mozart, respectively.

Hoffman and Corigliano eventually jettisoned the plot, and title, of the play, but retained many of Beaumarchais's original characters, while adding several new ones, including Beaumarchais himself and Marie Antoinette.

In an interview for the New York Times given shortly before the opera's premiere, Hoffman said of his work, "I was interested in producing an opera that would stand on its own dramatically . . . . the libretto had to satisfy me on a deeper level. To me, the opera is primarily a love story, but it is also about the French Revolution, the nature of revolution in general, the nature of love, and the nature of time."

The work was completed in 1987, and after several further delays received its world premiere on December 19, 1991, the first new opera performed at the Metropolitan since 1967. It was a critical and commercial sensation. Edward Rothstein, music critic for the New York Times, noted that the opera "brought camp humor, post-modern pastiche, parody, and effulgent tonal nostalgia to the Met."

In between rehearsals for the opera, Hoffman began working on Riga, a multi-media play about the murder of members of his family in Latvia during World War II. The play received its first production in Los Angeles in 1999.

Hoffman is currently a professor in the Department of Journalism, Communication, and Theatre at Lehman College of the City University of New York.

Craig Kaczorowski

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    Bibliography
   

Fraser, Jon. "Hoffman, William M." The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy: A Biographical Dictionary of Major Figures in American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era. Billy J. Harbin, Kim Marra, and Robert A. Schanke, eds. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005: 196-199.

Gurewitsch, Matthew. "Revolutionary Strains: The Metropolitan Opera Is Giving the Brilliant Ghosts of Versailles a Royal Sendoff." The Atlantic (December 1991): 112-118.

Gussow, Mel. "Sensitive Material Presented with Compassion." The New York Times (March 31, 1985): C12.

Kozinn, Allan. "Rushing in Where Copland Feared to Tread." The New York Times (December 15, 1991): B27.

Shewey, Don. "AIDS on Stage: Comfort, Sorrow, Anger." The New York Times (June 21, 1987): B5.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Kaczorowski, Craig  
    Entry Title: Hoffman, William M.  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2009  
    Date Last Updated June 9, 2009  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/hoffman_wm_lit.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2009 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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