Thursday, March 23rd, 2023

Two very dated 1980s horrorshow plays by Alan Bowne


and Beirut

by Alan Bowne

Sea Horse Press | Broadway Play Publications

Published 1983 | 1988

see also Plays by Alan Bowne. Broadway Play Pub., 1997.

95 pgs.

Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray

August 11, 2017

Felice Picano’s Sea Horse Press published Forty-Deuce (1981) by Alan Bowne (1945–89) features a cover photo of Kevin Bacon in the role of Ricky—for which Bacon won an Obie.

Reading it, this is puzzling, since the feral hustler Ricky is less interesting and even less fully written than the drug-dealer Blow or “the mark,” Mr. Roper. 1

The whole play takes place in a sleazy 8th Avenue apartment (near the titular 42nd Street, in the vicinity of Time Square in the days before gentrification/Disneyification) to which hustlers take their tricks and in which drugs are dealt.

I eventually was able to distinguish the characters and to realize that a young (12-year-old) runaway naked on the bed was dead and that the low-lifes wanted to make Mr. Roper think he had killed the naked child corpse, having laced his joint with angel dust. (Arrogan, smug, and despicable as Mr. Roper is (which is very!), what his sometimes tricks do to him still registers as deplorable.)

I guess that Bowne’s AIDS melodrama, Beirut, is less disgusting than Forty Deuce, though no less fraught. AIDS and HIV are not mentioned, but “positives” are quarantined on the Lower East Side (nicknamed “Beirut”) with patrols checking them daily or more often for lesions.Torch, the symptom-free resident of a crumbling room, is straight and is visited (breaking the law) by a young woman named Blue who loves him but has never had sex with him. 2 The concentration camps for HIV-postitives did not come to the U.S. (only Cuba), though plenty of us feared that it might. 3 The positives in Beirut have a “P” tattooed on their buttocks, as Pat Buchanan was advocating at the time.

Alas, Bowne died (in Petaluma, north of San Francisco) well before the protease breakthrough. (BTW, Cuba Gooding Jr. starred in a TV-movie version, Daybreak, that is panned as much as Paul Morrissey’s split-screen Forty Deuce.”

I am not sure if the intensely New York patois in both plays was invented by Browne or represented vocabulary and syntax of hardscrabble New York youth of the 1980s. Especially in the first scene of Forty Deuce, I find it close to unintelligible.

©2017, Stephen O. Murray


  1. Orson Bean performed Mr. Roper on stage, and in Paul Morrissey’s movie adaptation Esai Morales turns up as well.
  2. Marisa Tomei played the part in the first off-Broadway production in 1987). It is shorter than Forty Deuce and rather predictable. Forty Deuce is not predictable, in part because it is open-ended.
  3. e.g., my own “A Loaded Gun” published in the New York Native, 25 July 1976)

About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.