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Israel Horovitz: A Life and Career in Greenwich Village

Greenwich Village, known for its rich artistic heritage, has long been a haven for writers, musicians, and creative innovators of all stripes. Among the notable figures who have forged a life and a career here is Israel Horovitz (March 31, 1939 — November 9, 2020), a prolific playwright, screenwriter, and director whose time in Greenwich Village significantly shaped his work and legacy.

Israel Horovitz

Born in Wakefield, Massachusetts, in 1939, Israel Horovitz moved to New York City in his early twenties, drawn by the magnetic pull of artistic pursuits. The Village, with its eclectic mix of artists, intellectuals, and free spirits, offered a fertile ground for Horovitz’s burgeoning creativity.

Greenwich Village in the 1960s and 1970s was a hive of cultural activity, where boundaries were pushed, and new artistic movements were born. Horovitz immersed himself in this vibrant scene, frequenting iconic venues like the Village Vanguard and Café Wha? where he mingled with poets, musicians, and fellow playwrights.

It was amidst the backdrop of the Village that Horovitz found his voice as a writer. His early works, characterized by raw emotion and sharp social commentary, resonated with the countercultural ethos of the time. Plays like “The Indian Wants the Bronx” (1968) and “Line” (1974) captured the essence of the human experience, exploring themes of alienation, power, and identity. These works were often performed in Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theaters, such as the 13th Street Repertory Theatre, where the intimate settings allowed for a deep connection between the actors and the audience.

Israel Horovitz’s play “Line” was a staple of the 13th Street Repertory Theatre. As the longest-running play in Off-Off-Broadway history (it ran there for over five decades), “Line” captivated audiences with its sharp wit, dark humor, and profound exploration of human nature. The play is deceptively simple. It unfolds within the confines of a single setting: a queue. Five characters vie for the first position in line, employing a range of tactics from manipulation and deceit to camaraderie and aggression. The play’s brilliance lies in its ability to transform this mundane scenario into a microcosm of society, where the characters’ actions reflect broader themes of competition, power, and the human condition.

The characters—Fleming, Stephen, Dolan, Molly, and Arnall—are archetypal yet deeply complex, each driven by their own motivations and desires. Their interactions blend absurdity and realism, capturing the essence of human behavior in a way that is at the same time entertaining and provocative. Through their struggles to claim the first spot in line, Horovitz exposes the often irrational and contradictory nature of human ambition and desire.

The longevity of “Line” at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre is a testament to the play’s enduring appeal and the dedication of the theater’s community. Over the years, countless actors have taken on the challenging roles in “Line,” each bringing their own interpretation and energy to the characters, ensuring that the play remains fresh and engaging for new audiences.

Israel Horovitz lived at 146 West 11th Street for many years, raising his family there, including his son, Adam Horovitz, founding member of the Beatie Boys.

146 West 11th Street

Israel Horovitz’s career in the arts was illustrious. He wrote over 70 plays, many of which were performed internationally. He was a towering figure in American theater whose influence extended beyond the stage, as he ventured into screenwriting and directing, further cementing his status as a versatile and talented artist. However, despite his professional success, Horovitz’s reputation began to unravel in 2017 when multiple women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. While these allegations were not adjudicated before his death in 2020, Horovitz himself issued a statement acknowledging the allegations, saying, “I apologize with all my heart to any woman who has ever felt compromised by my actions, and from the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry.” But separating the art from the artist is a complex and challenging process. Horovitz’s plays continue to be studied and performed albeit with a heightened awareness of the troubling aspects of his life.

Village Preservation has proposed and fought for landmark designation of 50 West 13th Street, the historic home of Horovitz’s play “Line,” since the 2020 death of longtime co-owner of the building, Edith O’Hara. Her demise left the fate of the iconic structure in doubt. But recently, after a hard-fought 4-year campaign led by Village Preservation, 50 West 13th Street received a unanimous calendaring vote from the Landmarks Preservation Commission and is now officially on its way to obtaining landmark status. The enduring legacy of 13th Street Repertory Theatre is an integral and vital component of New York City’s theatrical history which we have fought to recognize and preserve.

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