‘A fascinating alternative to Stanislavsky’

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Charles Marowitz, who studied the acting method of Michael Chekhov as a youngster, will sign copies of his biography on Chekhov Saturday at Diesel, A Bookstore. Heather O'Quinn / TMT

“The Other Chekhov: A Biography of Michael Chekhov, the Legendary Actor, Director and Theorist,” by Charles Marowitz

Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 302 pages

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

Marilyn Monroe said he was the only man she ever loved. Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, Jack Palance, Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood have all thanked him in awards-acceptance speeches, and generations of actors have studied his techniques. He was actor, teacher and author Michael Chekhov.

Malibu resident Charles Marowitz has a new book on shelves that is the only English language biography on the man who inspired so many.

Marowitz has worn many hats throughout the years. In 1989 he co-founded the Malibu Stage Co. where he also served as the company’s artistic director.

He is also a theater director, successful playwright, published author and a renowned theater critic who has spent two- and a-half years researching the legendary Chekhov.

“The ironic thing is I studied Chekhov early on when I was a kid, but I didn’t know it was Chekhov,” Marowitz said in an interview last week. “I talked my mother into an acting class in New York and that was my first exposure to acting or any sort of theater.”

Marowitz said the class entailed various exercises such as improvisation and the imagination of growing taller and shorter, but the name Chekhov was never mentioned.

Many years later he discovered that his teacher, Blair Cutting, was Chekhov’s leading American disciple in teaching actors a new way to prepare for a role that was born out of Chekhov’s Moscow Art Theater Studio.

Marowitz also studied various other acting methods and approaches to theater including the more dominate Stanislavsky school of “method acting” that focuses on an actor’s personal experiences.

However, he remained fascinated by Chekhov and pitched the idea to publishers after he had been offered to write a biography on the French playwright, actor, director Antonin Artaud.

“I did a lot of things in England with Peter Brook and the so called ‘theatre of cruelty,'” Marowitz said. “I lived in France and speak French, but I said ‘you really need somebody who understands these French texts and I don’t think I’m the right guy for that, but I am very interested in Chekhov.'”

Marowitz traveled around the world doing research in locales where his subject had spent time, including Paris and Ridgefield, Conn. where Chekhov had opened a studio in 1939.

However, Marowitz said, “Some of my best material came from here in Los Angeles. [Chekhov] died here in Beverly Hills the same day as Jimmy Dean, which is why a lot of people don’t know about it.”

During the research phase of his book, Marowitz said he was also in contact via e-mail and telephone with many people in European countries and in Russia where Chekhov had lived and worked.

“I found him a fascinating alternative to Stanislavsky,” Marowitz said. “I found myself subverting the Stanislavsky techniques myself and moving little by little back toward Chekhov.”

Raised in New York’s Lower East Side, Marowitz later spent 24 years in London where he had his own theater company called the Open Space Theatre, one of the leading experimental theatres in the world during that time.

While there, Marowitz’s company presented some of the first plays of Terrence McNally, Sam Shepard, Leonard Melfi and Michael Weller.

“It was a period when people were doing off-the-wall, experimental theatre,” Marowitz said. “It was a very interesting period around 1969.”

Marowitz also directed at the London Traverse Theatre and eventually the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Following a cut in theater subsidies in England, Marowitz returned to the United States and accepted a teaching position at Pepperdine University. Soon afterward, he began working at theaters in Los Angeles, including the Los Angeles Theatre Center as a director and dramaturge.

In addition to upcoming book signings and a promotional tour for his book, Marowitz’s latest play, “Murdering Marlowe,” will also be published this spring. The play premiered at Malibu Stage Co. in 2002.

The ever-busy Marowitz just returned from Prague where he worked with playwright (and former president of Czechoslovakia and later of the Czech Republic) Vaclav Havel at the National Theater of the Czech Republic on the play “Temptation,” which became one of the theater’s repertory productions. He will next be traveling to Scandinavia to work with professional theaters in Denmark and lecturing on Shakespeare.

The Charles Marowitz publication party and High Tea will take place Saturday, Feb. 19 at 4 p.m. at Diesel, A Bookstore located at 3390 Cross Creek Road. He will be discussing and signing copies of “The Other Chekhov.”