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Uncle Barb's

There’s no such thing as autobiography,
there’s only art and lies.

-Jeanette Winterson-

Joy

Where All Arts Meet

A Visit with Director Vivian Matalon and Writer/Actor Stephen Temperley

They established a domestic partnership in NYC, formed a civil union in Vermont and were married in Canada. Vivian Matalon and Stephen Temperley have lived, loved and worked together for thirty-six years. They reside in Glenford in an elegantly comfortable, post and beam home, where they have beautiful gardens, a family of dogs and a rich creative life.

Souvenir, written by Stephen Temperley and directed by Vivian Matalon, recently enjoyed a successful run both off and on Broadway. Judy Kaye won a Best Actress TONY for her starring performance at the Lyceum. Souvenir has been acclaimed as “wildly funny and surprisingly touching…pure theatrical magic” (Time Out, Nov. 2005). In the coming months, Souvenir will be performed in other areas of the country, as well as in Europe.

The Pilgrim Papers, also written by Stephen and directed by Vivian, will premier at the Berkshire Theatre Festival August 2 – August 27, 2006. Stephen told me “When I discovered that the pilgrims were communists, I thought that was a funny fact and I began investigating the idea. And they actually were Christian communists.” The subsequent play, The Pilgrim Papers is “a rousing political satire that will overturn all your preconceptions not only about the Pilgrims—Turkeys, Thanksgiving, Plymouth Rock—but also about Hippies, the CIA, religious fundamentalism and same-sex marriage. Any similarities to present day America are...?”

The marriage of these two talents began when Vivian Matalon suggested to Stephen Temperley that there were job possibilities in London as an alternative to being drafted into the Vietnam era US military. They had met through a mutual friend in New York City shortly after Stephen had received his notice to report for the draft physical. Stephen’s father had moved his family to the States to work as a jazz musician when Stephen was a young teen. “As far as I was concerned I was a foreign national caught up in an American mess that was none of my business. I went back to London to work.” He was not allowed to return to the US, charged with avoiding the draft. Once back in London, Stephen contacted Vivian and they met for dinner. The dinner date lasted until the next morning, whereupon Vivian handed Stephen the key to his home and heart. They have been together ever since. There was more to this story that I cannot repeat here. As Stephen said, “I love the way Vivian tells a story. He puts in all the details.” Stephen was not able to return to the states until President Carter granted amnesty in 1977. In fact, he was the first in England to apply for entry under the amnesty.

Born in Manchester England and raised in Jamaica West Indies, Vivian schooled in London at the Central School for acting. As he tells it, he was asked to reconsider his pursuit of an acting career several times that first year. “Vivian you are a very nice boy, but the theatre is not for you. Go home. Go home and go into your father’s business”. Happily, he met Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse during a stopover in New York on his way home from vacation. This meeting changed his life. He worked with Sandy for two years and studied with him for five more. Vivian then became the representative for the Playhouse in London.

Vivian Matalon’s career as a director is an impressive one. He has directed Dame Edith Evans (The Chinese Prime Minister), Lee Remick (Bus Stop), Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and Anne Baxter (Noel Coward in Two Keys) and this dazzling list goes on. He won a TONY Award for Best Director for Morning’s at Seven. He also received a TONY nomination for his directorial work on the musical, The Tap Dance Kid with Savion Glover. After a successful start to his acting career, he began to feel that “If I go on acting, I will never grow up and if I don’t grow up, I am going to die.” He began teaching and then directing. He was hired to direct for the British television show Emergency Ward 10 where he learned his chops with actors such as Eileen Aitkins and Albert Finney. Vivian told a story about directing Noel Coward in the play Coward had written Suite in Three Keys. “Noel you are not saying what is exactly written here,” said the director. “I am saying everything absolutely as it was written,” answered Coward. “But you’re not, see here and here and here.” To which Noel Coward replied, “You know dear, every good actor’s instinct is to re-write the author, even when the author is one’s self.”

Stephen has worked as an actor for his entire adult life, appearing in London’s West End, both on and off Broadway, on national tours, in regional theatres, and in film and television. He has also written most of his adult life. The first of his plays to be produced was Beside the Seaside at the Hudson Guild. His other plays include Money/Mercy, Dance with Me, a musical That Kind of Woman, In the Country of the Free and The Weight of Tears, in addition to Souvenir and The Pilgrim Papers. He has also written a novel, Heartland. For years Stephen had to live in Vivian’s shadow. “In the theatre, the most negative thing that can be said of someone is that they are the director’s boyfriend or the producer’s wife. The harder I tried to get people to look at Stephen’s work, the worse the stigma became. With the success of Souvenir, everything has changed. I make a joke that I walk a respectful three paces behind him now,” said Vivian. “Finally, after all these years, he has been recognized as who he is.”

Their comfy home with a family of four dogs, is graced with lovely flowerbeds. So when they aren’t writing and directing plays, they are working in their garden or working in the community. They are active with Theatre Sounds and are great supporters of The Woodstock Fringe. “Nicola Shearer and Wallace Norman are doing wonderful work,” they both agreed. “Woodstock should have a theatre like Stockbridge. It’s the perfect town for it.”

They first bought a second home in Margaretville because of a trip they took to Andes to pick up a wire-haired dachshund that was a present from Stephen to Vivian. After traveling back and forth to the city through the Woodstock area, they decided to make that their full time residence. They credited the community for attracting them, the shops and restaurants and arts; and for Stephen, also the beautiful hiking trails.

The obvious respect and consideration these two men hold for each other has surely been essential to working and living together for all these years. Their pleasure at the memories of their wedding in Toronto is apparent. They wrote their own vows and exchanged rings. “Elliot Spitzer’s office recognizes our marriage, because it is legally possible for same sex couples to marry in Canada,” Vivian explained. “That does not give us any federal protections, but it establishes intent,” which is important for many potential legal issues. “The theatre community accepted our married relationship fairly easily. And everyone we have told in this area has been very kind and congratulatory. In fact in Glenford we are known as the two gay guys up the hill.” Well these two gay guys living on a hill overlooking the Ashokan Reservoir continue to create.

Vivian told me that the acting troupe whose performances he attended as a youth in Jamaica had the motto: “Theatre, the art where all arts meet.” Perhaps the same can be said about marriage.

For more information or to purchase tickets for The Pilgrim Papers, please visit www.berkshiretheatre.org. Visit www.souvenironbroadway.com for a look at the splendid Broadway production of Souvenir with Judy Kaye and to keep up-to-date on future productions.

Barbara Salzman is a regular contributor to InsideOut.