Two young Liverpool Seamen, Eddie and Vinnie, and two giants of the American stage and screen, director Elia Kazan and playwright Arthur Miller, confront their past and prepare for the future, in this fast tale of brotherhood and betrayal, secrets and showdowns, where only one thing is certain – everything’s going to change when Brando arrives.
An urban myth inspired the play Waiting for Brando. In December 1953, in Hoboken, New York, Elia Kazan arrived at a bar to film a scene for On the Waterfront, the now legendary film that propelled Marlon Brando to international stardom. When he arrived he came across two Liverpool seamen having a drink inside. He allowed the two sailors to stay, and they say that if you look closely enough you can catch a glimpse of the back of their heads in a mirror in one of the scenes in the film.
Waiting for Brando tells the story of these two young men, both Merchant Seamen, or ‘Cunard Yanks’, from Liverpool, and the time they spend in the bar waiting for the ship that will take them home, as the crew wait for the star, Marlon Brando, to arrive so they can start filming. But the play also tells the story of the breakdown in the relationship between playwright Arthur Miller and director Elia Kazan.
The play takes place at a pivotal moment of change for Britain, America and Liverpool, with Marlon Brando, fresh from his starring role as gang-leader Johnny Strabler in The Wild One, representing the emergence of the era of teenage rebellion at the point when the first recognisable Rock n Roll song, ‘Crazy Man Crazy’, by Bill Haley and his Comets breaks into the Billboard top 100.
A major witchunt against alleged communists was in full swing in America, being conducted by Senator Joseph
McCarthy, one of the most powerful men in America at the time. Although later exposed as a liar and a drunk, for a few dramatic years McCarthy inspired fear amongst radicals across the country. To be ‘named’ as a communist by his House Un-American Activities Committee led to persecution, unemployment, and even jail.
Arthur Miller, playwright (Death of a Salesman, A View from a Bridge, All My Sons, The Crucible), and screenwriter (The Misfits), and Elia Kazan, stage and screen director (Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront), were close friends, who worked together on many projects and were seen as leading lights of the American Left during the dark days of the McCarthyite anti-communist witch-hunts in 1950’s America.
Their relationship deteriorated when Kazan decided to attend a House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearing conducted by Senator McCarthy and name those in the stage and film world who were either members of the Communist Party or ‘fellow-travellers’. Kazan and Miller parted ways, with Miller eventually writing The Crucible, with witch-hunting as its central concern. Kazan went on to direct On The Water Front, which won 8 Oscars, including Best Director for Elia Kazan and Best Actor for Marlon Brando. The film represents many things to different people – with some arguing it was made as a justification for Kazan’s decision to name names to Senator Joe McCarthy’s Committee.
Although the play is about the characters named above, in many ways it is really about the sea as an agent of change – the first information super-highway – and the changes that are wrought when people cross continents in search of new experiences and new and better lives, and how they affect change in the way the ebb and flow of the tide changes the shoreline.
All the characters in the play are from somewhere else. Eddie and Vinnie are from Liverpool. Their decision to either stay or go home will have a knock-on effect through generations, in the same way as the parents of Elia Kazan and Arthur Miller influenced the lives of many by their decision to settle in America.
Elia Kazan was born Elias Kazantzoglou in Istanbul in 1909. His parents were Greek. Arthur Miller, who excelled at sports when his was young, and had the physique and looks of the all-American sporting hero, was born to in Harlem, New York, to Polish Jewish Immigrants. Lee Strasberg, who championed the techniques of the Russian acting guru, Stanislavsky, who taught Marlon Brando what became known as ‘The Method’, or Method Acting’, was himself born Israel Strassberg, to Jewish parents, in Budaniv in the Ukraine.
Although set in New York, this is also a Liverpool play, based as it is upon the transatlantic themes that have for so long had such an influence on the culture of both Liverpool and America.
Writers Mike Morris and Steve Higginson go way back, and worked together on the documentary, Liverpool’s Cunard Yanks (Granada TV, 2008), so when Steve suggested the title ‘Waiting for Brando’, Mike knew where he was coming from. Mike pitched the idea for the format and the beginning and the ending, and it grew from there.
The writing of the script began in July 2009 and developed over many long afternoon discussions and late night writing sessions into a two-act play featuring four characters: Eddie Walsh, a 24 yr old Merchant Seaman from Liverpool, Vinnie, a Merchant Seaman from Liverpool (19yrs), and Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan.
Mike and Steve showed the script to Carl Cockram, who loved it, and very soon after organised a read-through with Paul Duckworth, which ran till five o’clock in the morning and plenty of beer and vino. Two young actors, Joe Shipman and Danny Hayes, were soon recruited, and then we had our director and cast. Some support and funding from Arts Council England and The Unity Theatre’s Making Art Scheme meant that Waiting for Brando debuted in May 2012 at The Unity Theatre, Liverpool. Reviews were strong and audience feedback very positive, so we are bringing it back to The Unity Theatre in April 2013, and embarking on a short national tour. Plans are already afoot for a winter tour too. Pray for us…