overview

From c. 1960 to 2010, absurdist playwright H.M. “Harry” Koutoukas lived in this apartment building.

While here, he contributed to the burgeoning Off-Off-Broadway theater movement in the 1960s through his award-winning work at downtown venues, such as the Caffe Cino and La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club.

Header Photo

Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2017.

On the Map

Photo Above

Promotional card for two H.M. Koutoukas plays staged at La MaMa, 122 Second Avenue, June 28, 1965. Source: La MaMa Archives.

History

Absurdist playwright, actor, and director H. M. “Harry” Koutoukas (born Haralambos Monroe Koutoukas; 1937-2010) was particularly significant in the development of Off-Off-Broadway theater in the 1960s. In Contemporary American Dramatists (1994), he is noted as the “quintessential Off-Off-Broadway dramatist.”

Koutoukas moved into the apartment building at 87 Christopher Street in c. 1960, shortly after arriving in the city from upstate New York. A few years later, he became a fixture at several Off-Off-Broadway theater venues; he was most often associated with the Caffe Cino, located just four blocks south on Cornelia Street from his apartment, and La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, in the East Village. As with other Off-Off-Broadway pioneers who rejected the theater establishment, Koutoukas fully embraced the creative and experimental opportunities that the relaxed attitudes, intimate spaces, and limited finances of unconventional downtown venues nurtured. He wrote at least 52 plays over his career, based on a compilation by Cino historian Magie Dominic, and took part in more than 150 productions.

Koutoukas wrote, directed, and acted in various plays at several downtown venues. His Off-Off-Broadway playwriting debut, Only A Countess May Dance When She’s Crazy, appeared at the Cino in December 1964. Following a devastating fire there three months later, Koutoukas organized a major benefit at the Writer’s Stage Theatre, 82 East 4th Street, with playwright Edward Albee. The Cino re-opened with the staging of Koutoukas’ play, With Creatures Make My Way, on May 18, 1965. His decades-long association as a playwright with La MaMa began with his play, Medea or Maybe the Stars May Understand or Veiled Strangers, in October 1965. The staging of his work also took place at other celebrated downtown venues, such as Judson Poets Theatre, Theatre Genesis, Theater for the New City, and Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company, where he also won acclaim for his performances in the company’s revivals.

“One doesn’t write plays—they’re written. … You have to learn to listen to write plays. But since they fixed my radiator, I’m not hearing so many voices lately.”
H.M. Koutoukas, 1983

At the 1966 Obie Awards, which honors the achievements of Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theater, Koutoukas received a Special Citation “for the style and energy of his assault on the theatre in both playwriting and production.” He also ran the School for Gargoyles, a theater workshop in Manhattan that trained the likes of Gerome Ragni and James Rado, writers of the musical Hair (1967); director Tom O’Horgan; and actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein. Koutoukas was also a founding member of the Chamber Theater Group and, in 2003, won the Robert Chesley Award for lesbian and gay playwriting. He lived on Christopher Street until his death in 2010. His memorial service was held at Judson Memorial Church, and a plaque installed by a tree in front of his apartment building is dedicated to him.

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