Biography

“I was too beautiful for public school. I had to be taken out. The other students would bite me. They couldn’t deal with undiluted beauty. Children are irrational. I’m an artist. I dip my fingers in poison and make beautiful things.”

“All art was created out of vengeance.”

— Polly Bergen

Harry Kondoleon arrived on this planet in 1955 and started observing its inhabitants and their curious customs shortly thereafter. His parents were named Sophocles and Athena, though their friends in Queens called them Cliff and Tina. He shared a birthday with his two-years-older sister Christine. He spent a year in Bali where he saw witches dance and caught typhoid fever. He majored in cutthroat competition at the Yale School of Drama and for more than a decade studied heartbreak and rage with New York City’s daily newspaper critics. Traces of his life on Earth inevitably turned up in his plays: the eerie symbiosis of siblings, the ancient pleasure of putting on a show, the absurd realities of show business, the magic of delirium, the perversity of divine forces wearing masks as mundane as potato salad.

Yet much that goes on in the world of Kondoleon’s imagination escaped any explanation biography has to offer. His sneaky way, for instance, of writing comedies that begin in recognizable living rooms and then spiral imperceptibly into poetry — where does it come from? That, like the love his characters urgently seek, is a mystery that remains intact.

Kondoleon’s best-known plays include Christmas On Mars, The Vampires, Zero Positive, Slacks and Tops, The Fairy Garden, The Cote D’Azur Triangle, The Brides, Rococo, The Poets’ Corner, Anteroom, Play Yourself, Love Diatribe, The Houseguests, and Saved or Destroyed. His plays have been performed at theaters across the country and around the world, and they have earned him two Obie Awards, the Oppenheimer/Newsday Award, and a Drama-Logue Award. In addition, he has received Fulbright, Rockefeller, NEA, and Guggenheim fellowships.

Several of his plays were published by Theater Communications Group in an anthology entitled Self Torture and Strenuous Exercise. He is also the author of a volume of poetry, The Death of Understanding, and two novels, The Whore of Tjampuan and Diary of a Lost Boy. The latter was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1994, two months before Harry Kondoleon died of complications from AIDS.

Feature Articles about Harry Kondoleon:

Don Shewey, “Ferocious Fairy Tales,” Village Voice, June 8, 1982
Jon Cashen, “Just Wild about Harry,” Hamilton Alumni Review, 1984
Betsy Sussler, “Points Along the Cote d’Azur Triangle,” 1985
Don Shewey, “Homage to a Theatrical Comet of the 80’s,” New York Times, November 19, 2000

photo credits on this page: Peter Hujar (top) Clemens Kalischer (middle), Martha Swope (bottom)

5 Responses to “Biography”

  1. Laurie says:

    Harry was a beautiful soul. We became inseparable friends on the first day of junior high and I treasure his memory.

  2. Alexanda Lambropoulos: says:

    I still think of Harry often. We were classmates and friends in high school. We were both on the staff of the high school literary magazine. One year we wanted to call the magazine “Kondoleo” instead of its actual name “Folio” because all the best stuff in it was his. I was a character in a movie he made for a class in high school. He filmed most of it in his parents’ house in Queens and in the backyard. I remember a party he had at his parents’ house while they were away somewhere. We were all about 16 and what I most remember was how incredibly adult and elegant the party was.
    We kept in touch through college and for a few years after that.
    I am sorry we lost touch; who remembers why?
    I am grateful to still have the letters he wrote me, some of his artwork, a few books he gave me and delightfully inscribed, and a gift he brought back from Greece one year.
    The other gifts from Harry are the ones I carry inside: memories of his transforming friendship, meals shared, jaunts around Manhattan to movies and museums and stores,
    interesting/surprising/shocking/ amazing conversations, books lent, memories of
    his fabulous wardrobe in an era of jeans and tee shirts, poetry written and read, and
    recollections of his fiercely funny side. I will always remember Harry with much fondness
    and am eternally grateful to have known him. Thanks for maintaining this site.

  3. Rivkah Lapidus says:

    I’m glad this site exists. I knew Harry in college, and lost touch with him as our paths diverged. I spoke only once to him much later, when he was at Yaddo.( I think he was disgusted that I was working as a therapist, not as an artist (I saw therapists lampooned in “Lost Boy.” )

    Of the brilliant people I have known, forgotten, or lost, Harry often haunts my dreams. I wish so much that he was still among us; there are things I want to talk with him about.

    To whomever is maintaining this site, my thanks.

  4. DB says:

    Sad about the AIDS thing. Thirty – nine is an early age to check out.

  5. ChiChi Fargo says:

    How wonderful to be reminded of this brilliant man who brought so much pleasure to so many. I will never forget seeing “Linda Her” and “The Fairy Garden” on a double bill and knowing instantly that this was a playwright to be reckoned with. A production of ‘Christmas on Mars’ in Harvard Square, ‘Anteroom’ in its theater-district premiere. So sad to have lost him so early. But wonderful to read of him here. Many, many thanks for maintaining this site.

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