Raymond Evenor Lawler was one of eight children born to a tradesman in Melbourne, Australia. At the age of thirteen, Lawler started work in an engineering plant and took lessons in acting in his spare time. When he was twenty-three, he sold his first play, which was never produced, to J. C. Williamson’s theatrical company, known in Australia simply as “the Firm.” Lawler acted and wrote pantomimes and scripts for revues, and when he was in his mid-thirties, he became manager and director of the Union Theatre Repertory Company. While in that position, he worked on the script of his masterpiece, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, in which he had written a part for himself, that of Barney.
Lawler appeared in the original Australian production and in both the London West End and New York Broadway productions, and his work as an actor received high praise. After the early closing of the Broadway production, he moved to Denmark; later, he returned to London, then moved to Ireland in 1966. These moves were indirectly prompted by the success of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll: Lawler could not return to Australia, nor could he live in London or New York, because of a tax situation resulting from productions of his play and the sale of film rights. He took up residence in Ireland after learning that he could obtain an income exemption granted to writers in that country. Lawler is of Irish descent and admires Irish writers. Lawler’s wife, Jacqueline Kelleher, is an actress originally from Brisbane; they have twin sons, born in 1957, and a daughter, Kylie, born in 1959.
Lawler returned briefly to Australia in 1971, after a lengthy absence, to assist with the production of The Man Who Shot the Albatross, a play about Captain William Bligh’s rule as Governor of New South Wales. He moved back to Australia in 1975, and in 1977 assisted with the production of The Doll Trilogy, comprising Kid Stakes, Other Times, and Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. The Doll Trilogy relates the history of the protagonists of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in the sixteen years prior to the time frame of that play. Both Kid Stakes and Other Times were written in the 1970’s, some twenty years after Lawler’s success with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.
Born one of eight children to a lower-middle-class Australian family, Raymond Evenor Lawler went to work in a factory at age thirteen but was always interested in the theater. He took acting lessons and worked at the Cremone Theatre in Brisbane during the late 1940’s. There he became Will Mahoney’s personal assistant, doing everything from roles in the pantomimes to walk-ons as a straight man for the comics; he began writing his own pieces as well. By twenty-three he had completed his first play (unproduced), and in his mid-thirties he was offered the position of manager/director of the Union Theatre Repertory Company in Melbourne. He accepted eagerly.
To fully comprehend Lawler’s contribution, it is necessary to take into account that theater in Australia, from its beginning as a penal colony, was dominated by British drama. Even after World War II, the theater (and films) consisted of mainly second-rate British and American works. To counteract this, and to promote indigenous artistic creation, the Playwrights Advisory Board (PAB) and the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust offered prizes and subsidies to native writers who would write plays about their fellow Australians and stage them with native-born actors. Lawler won first prize in a contest in 1949 for Cradle of Thunder, and then, in 1955, nine unproduced plays later, he shared the first prize (of two hundred dollars) in a contest sponsored by PAB. Summer of the Seventeenth Doll was staged, with the playwright performing one of the lead roles.
Prior to its production, there had been a negative feeling about “homegrown” dramatic products, but the unparalleled international success of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll changed that perception radically. Included in Ten...
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