A visionary and a true independent, John Cassavetes had already created an indelible body of film work with such searing dramas asFaces, A Woman Under the Influence and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie when he undertook what was perhaps the most ambitious project of his career. In 1981 he set out to write, direct and produce three interconnecting full-length plays in repertory, funding the endeavor entirely on his own and presenting them at a Hollywood theater that he and his co-conspirators refurbished themselves.
With his eyes on an artistic prize that had nothing to do with monetary gain, Cassavetes refused millions of dollars from the fledgling cable industry to tape the plays, and an offer to take the production to Broadway was likewise spurned. And so the performances of Three Plays of Love and Hate, starring Gena Rowlands, Jon Voight and Peter Falk,went unrecorded, except in reminiscences of the participants and mostly negative reviews.
But thanks to Steve Reisch, an actor and photographer who became part of the Three Plays troupe, we have a visual chronicle of the pre-production phase, an intense period of rehearsal, improvisation, writing and rewriting that Reisch likens to “a master seminar on life and acting.”
Reisch’s photographs, displayed in the Center Theater during the plays’ run but otherwise unseen by the public for 34 years, illuminate a relatively unexplored chapter in Cassavetes’ career. More than that, though, they tap into the emotional depth and electricity of his working process with a rare intimacy.