Some two hundred friends and admirers of playwright, poet and professor William Alfred, who died in May, gathered on Oct. 30 for a memorial tribute in Cambridge. The two-hour event took place appropriately in the Agassiz Theater, which has functioned continuously since 1904 in the Radcliffe College yard.
Placed on the stage was Mr. Alfred's armchair from his residence, adorned only by his tan coat and ubiquitous gray fedora. During the program Alfred himself came back to enlighten and amuse the audience, thanks to videotapes and audiotapes.
The live participants included numerous former students -- among them actresses Stockard Channing, Kathryn Walker and Maeve Kinkead; writers Seymour Simckes, Mark Mirsky, Mark O'Donnell, Richard Tillinghast and Jean Valentine; and the Rev. Peter Gomes, Preacher to Harvard University, where Alfred was a vital and beloved force for half a century.
Mr. Alfred's three best-known plays were represented. On tape we heard an excerpt from Hogan's Goat, read by the late poet-playwright Robert Lowell and Alfred himself. Maeve Kinkead delivered a speech from Agamemnon, and Stockard Channing an excerpt from The Curse of an Aching Heart. There were readings of some of Mr. Alfred's favorite poems -- by Milton, Yeats, Hardy, George Herbert, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, and Gertrude Stein. The audience also heard bits from the memoir that Mr. Alfred had been working on when he died at 76. The three actresses read an "Elegy" by Mr. Alfred, along with the author's translation of the epitaph to the eighth-century Alcuin of York, chaplain to Charlemagne.
Mr. Alfred was quoted as saying, "I've heard voices all my life -- that's what drove me into drama." In his playwriting, the Brooklyn native added, "I wanted to catch the New York voices I missed when I came to Harvard." The program concluded with a video photograph montage covering Mr. Alfred's life from childhood to the end, accompanied by a recording of his favorite music, Brahms' late "Four Serious Songs." Thus went the farewell to the man whom the Rev. Gomes called "our own Celtic saint."
--by Caldwell Titcomb (Boston)
Special to Playbill On-Line