Arthur Kopit Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Arthur Lee Kopit (KOP-uht) is a writer whose plays are noted for powerful social commentary and for innovations in dramatic form. He was born in New York City but grew up in Lawrence, Long Island, where his father was a jeweler. After finishing high school in 1955, he entered Harvard University on a scholarship, with a declared major in engineering. He was, however, also interested in the arts, and during his last three years as an undergraduate, he won two playwriting contests and saw seven of his works produced. The plays from this period depict Kopit’s early fascination with exploring the role of the hero in a specifically American context and with incorporating European avant-garde theatrical forms, such as the Theater of the Absurd, with which he was initially associated. Don Juan in Texas is a parody of the American Western, and Across the River and into the Jungle pokes fun at Ernest Hemingway. The theatrical styles of these works range from impressionistic drama to black comedy. In 1968, Kopit married Leslie Ann Garis, a concert pianist from Amherst, Massachusetts; they have three children.

The first play to bring Kopit international attention was Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. This play centers on a domineering woman, her overprotected son, and her dead husband’s body, which keeps falling out of a closet. It is an exuberant farce that satirizes American family life, Tennessee Williams, and the absurdists. Using macabre humor to distance the audience from the stage action, Kopit exposes the psychological dangers inherent in a society that blindly adheres to a belief in stereotyped family roles. The play won the Vernon Rice Award and the Outer Circle Award. It has been performed in London, Paris, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Mexico, the Scandinavian countries, Turkey, and (West) Berlin. A film version was released by Paramount in 1967.

In the next group of plays, Kopit presents another gallery of characters trapped in a chaotic world they can never come to understand. Chamber Music focuses on eight women in an insane asylum, each of whom assumes the identity of a celebrated woman—for example, Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart, and Susan B. Anthony. In The Day the Whores Came out to Play Tennis, Kopit lightly parodies Anton Chekhov’s 1904 drama...

(The entire section is 970 words.)