The Wooster Group
Sydney Festival 2018


Never heard of the film …  TOWN BLOODY HALL by Chris Hegedus & D.A. Pennebaker.  Googled an interview of Hegedus (editor) &  Pennebaker (camera) talking about how the raw footage (US$3000 given to Pennebaker by Mailer) got to be edited. 

Hegedus … I could have cut it as a love affair, the sexual tension between Mailer and Greer was so strong.

Did a lot of editing because of the way it was shot, film canisters were only 10 minutes long.  She showed it to the participants to ensure their manifesto was accurate.

Pennebaker and his colleague invented a kind of sync camera because he recognised that you could make a film driven by dialogue … like theatre. A drama film simply by watching.   But will a film make theatre … let’s see!

Lots of sequences from the film on YouTube and even a re-enactment of the events - 

My fav quote “abdication of intelligence” … Trilling on whether she could accept all points of view because they were espoused by women.

Second favourite quote … Jill Johnston “lesberated”.

Apparently, Kate Millet said Johnston made performance art and wasn’t going to debate anyone.   I think she fell accidentally and Mailer’s comment about 3 dirty overalls on the floor killed me!  Millet didn't attend.

About the company and the production -

“Devised theatre pieces most often around a classic text” Kate Valk.  Classic text? Maura Tierney described as company collaborator who brought the text to them.

Tierney on a Larry King interview … asked for a meeting with Wooster after ER.  Confronted by whole group rather than just artistic director. 

Diana Trilling is played by a man?  WTF.  Is that just gender parity because Mailer got eviscerated by Susan Sontag and Cynthia Ozick from the floor.  There are 2 Mailers though.


The production is a “theatrical reimagining of TOWN BLOODY HALL a documentary about the combative 1971 debate between Norman Mailer and leading feminists” … That’s in the program.  

The cast have earpieces into which the actual footage is played and they sync it perfectly.  An astonishing display of skill and craft.  The audience can see the documentary rolling, there’s an on-stage TV.  But reactions however, are not synced.  Which certainly adds to the theatricality and to the split screen effect on the audience … like when you are little: are you a kid who watches the puppet or the puppeteer?

There are several sections repeated verbatim from the film, no interpretation and no expansion.  If you have seen the film sections before, the ideas are not new.  And they are not modern. But what is fascinating is that the audience laughs and groans in the same places as the film.  That’s what good writers can accomplish.

 Also showing and reproduced are sections from a Norman Mailer film MAIDSTONE (1970), including a physical fight with Rip Torn, another actor on the film.  This real-life fight was captured and included in the final film.  We see it on stage which brings one to first of the casting questions.  

There are two actors playing Mailer, so they fight each other in the on-stage reproduction.  Mailer’s wife was given a role in MAIDSTONE and that role is taken by the actress taking the role of Germaine Greer in TOWN BLOODY HALL.  There are implications here to be considered.

There are a great many meta contemplations in THE TOWN HALL AFFAIR: some of which elevate the production.  It really is the Jill Johnston show and her direct to the audience speaking gives context and theatricality.  

Some of the meta considerations do not elevate.  Like, the loss of comparison of approach because Jacqueline Ceballos doesn’t appear in the production and, the big one, Diana Trilling is played by a man.  Played well, all the performances are terrific, but played by a man.  Why her? Frumpy, solid, conservatively dressed … Some interesting discussion at the Q and A on this one.  It comes down to availability, being with the company and spirit rather than gender. 

The actors are all highly accomplished, the production is technically excellent, the conceptualisation and direction clear and focused, the debate still worth having but is THE TOWN HALL AFFAIR just sandwich bread?  Surely the debate is the meat!

So now there are 2 "classic texts" to bring 1970s feminism back to the dining table of the contemporary debate.