Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Jan Peck Biography - Personal to David Randall (1972–) Biography - Personal » Miguel Piñero: 1946-1988: Playwright, Poet, Actor Biography - Discovery Of Talent, Success As An Actor, A New Audience

Miguel Piñero: 1946-1988: Playwright, Poet, Actor - Discovery Of Talent

short york eyes theatre

While at Sing Sing, Piñero decided to join a prison theater workshop, "The Family." Piñero wrote several short plays while a prisoner, but most attention has been paid to Short Eyes, the story of an imprisoned child molester who is judged and then murdered by fellow prisoners. When the New York Times theater critic, Max Gussow, visited the prison in 1972, more than half of the works he saw performed were written and acted by Piñero. It was the subsequent Gussow review in the New York Times that opened a new life for Mikey, as he was known to his friends. In response to Gussow's article, Arthur Bartow, the director of the Theatre at the Riverside Church, arranged to stage Short Eyes after Piñero's release from prison. In 1974, after leaving the Riverside Theatre, Piñero's play moved to the Joseph Papp Public Theatre and then to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in Lincoln Center. That same year, Short Eyes won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as best American play of the year. It also won an Obie Award for best off-Broadway play. Eventually, in 1979 Piñero's play was filmed, with Piñero himself writing the screenplay and also taking an acting role in the final filmed version.

At a Glance . . .

Born December 19, 1946, in Gurabo, Puerto Rico; died on, June 17, 1988 in New York City; married Juanita Lovette Rameize, 1977 (divorced, 1979); children: Ismael Castro.

Career: Writer and actor; founder, Nuyorican Poet's Theatre, New York City, 1975.

Awards: New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Antoinette Perry Award Nomination for best play, Obie Award, and Drama Desk Award, all in 1974, all for Short Eyes: The Killing of a Sex Offender by the Inmates of the House of Detention Awaiting Trial.

Short Eyes was not the last of Piñero's works to find a home on the New York stage, but none of his other works achieved quite the same level of critical acclaim. Perhaps the success of Short Eyes rested on the brutality of its content, or perhaps it was the glimpse into a world where most theater-goers never enter that held the audience transfixed. When it was staged in 1999, 25 years after the initial production, Lloyd Rose, of the Washington Post, labeled the play a "conventional enough drama." Rose suggested that Piñero is not "breaking any taboos." Instead, stated Rose, Short Eyes "exists only to teach the presumably pampered audience a lesson about the gritty reality of minorities in prison," and this really only provides a "freak-show element" that is not sufficient for the audience.

Of course, even when freshly produced, Short Eyes was not without controversy. While celebrating the play's insight into the prisoner's lives, several critics, such as Stanley Kauffman, writing for New Republic and Michael Feingold, writing for the Village Voice pointed to flaws in Piñero's technique that revealed his lack of experience. Piñero had written other plays while in prison, and he continued to write both plays and poems after his release from prison. Plays such as Midnight Moon at the Greasy Spoon, The Sun Always Shines for the Cool, and Eulogy for a SmallTime Thief, continued to focus on the criminals or down-trodden of street life. Piñero also published a collection of his poetry in 1979, La Bodega Sold Dreams.

Success as a playwright brought many changes to Piñero's life. For a brief time Piñero was in demand at college campuses as a guest lecturer and visiting professor. In the early 1980s he taught creative writing at Rutgers University and in 1982 he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for writing. Piñero moved to Philadelphia for a short period and then moved to Los Angeles where he founded the One Act Theatre Festival, but eventually he returned to New York City. After he achieved success, Piñero returned to his old neighborhood in Manhattan's Lower East Side. The story of how Piñero handed out cash to those he met on the street is told by Robert Dominguez in a review of a recently released biography of Piñero's life. Writing for the New York Daily News, Dominguez related that Piñero gave the neighborhood addicts money to buy drugs, but he also gave money to a street musician and to a street vendor who needed new equipment. Clearly Piñero was a complex man who, in spite of his artistic success, was unable to escape the poor streets in which he had lived as a child.

Miguel Piñero: 1946-1988: Playwright, Poet, Actor - Success As An Actor [next]

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