Posted March 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm
NY Times, published March 14, 2012
Tom Murrin, a performance artist whose frenetic shows fashioned kooky narratives out of found objects and homemade masks and made him a longtime favorite in the downtown avant-garde arts scene in New York, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 73.
The cause was cancer, said his wife, Patricia Sullivan.
Mr. Murrin, whose stage names were Tom Trash and, later, the Alien Comic, was a playwright and an avant-garde impresario as well as a performer of his own shows, which he was apt to put on almost anywhere — on the street, in music clubs and on stages that included landmarks of experimental theater in New York like La MaMa, Dixon Place and P.S. 122.
For years he put on monthly celebrations of the full moon, in which he and other artists thanked the moon goddess he called Luna Macaroona for shining good fortune upon the world.
A native Californian and former lawyer in Los Angeles, Mr. Murrin came to New York in the 1960s and wrote several plays — some with sexually suggestive titles — that were presented at La MaMa in its early years.
In the 1970s he lived for a time in Paris, where he began acting in plays, and then moved to Seattle, where he turned to performing full time. As part of a dance and theater company, Para-Troupe, he began creating shows for himself and other performers and developing what became his signature technique: telling absurdist tales at rapid-fire pace and illustrating them with quick costume and mask changes. A performance, he said, consisted of anything someone wanted to do “with purpose and style.”
The shows were often determined by the detritus he picked up on the street; hence the early stage name Tom Trash. A broken umbrella might become an antenna to listen in on another world. A dish drainer might suggest a prison cell. He made masks and other types of headgear — some elaborate, some consisting of simple, suggestive drawings on cardboard — and whipped them on and off with breathless abandon in performances.
During the mid-1970s Mr. Murrin traveled around the world and performed, often on the street, in Japan, the Philippines, India, Greece, France and Scotland. By the end of the decade he had returned to New York and taken his streetwise, antic storytelling to nightclubs, appearing as a kind of punk-rock stand-up comedian at CBGB, the Pyramid Club and the Mudd Club, as well as at Irving Plaza, opening for rock bands, including X, Pere Ubu, and the Stranglers, as well as James Brown.
In an interview in 2008, he described his work as “like a show and tell.”
“I’m talking about the political scene of the day,” he explained. “I’m talking about the weather, I’m talking about a dream I had, I’m talking about breaking up with a girlfriend, I’m talking about whatever I feel like talking about, but I’m making the props and the visuals fit along with it in some way, and then changing the visual as fast as I can.”
He continued: “When I was on the street, that’s what I learned to do. You’re going to do a street show, you want to get out there, you want to put it down, you want to do it, you want to get a crowd, you want to pass the hat and get paid and then get out of there before the cops or someone else says, ‘You’ve been here too long.’ ”
Thomas Lee Murrin was born on Feb. 8, 1939, in Los Angeles, where his father, Ms. Sullivan said, was an aide to Howard Hughes. He graduated from the University of Southern California law school and worked in private practice in Beverly Hills before moving to New York, where he continued his law studies at New York University. At the same time, he was writing plays for the alternative theater scene that became known as Off Off Broadway.
In later years, as an éminence grise among performance artists, Mr. Murrin wrote regularly about alternative theater for the magazine Paper and supported performers who, like him, inhabited the theatrical fringe.
His full-moon extravaganzas were often produced with four artists he encouraged — Jo Andres, Mimi Goese, Lucy Sexton and Annie Iobst (together they were known as the Full Moon Crew) — and those shows, along with holiday variety shows he presented at La MaMa, helped push along the careers of troupes like Blue Man Group and the Five Lesbian Brothers and of artists like Holly Hughes, Lisa Kron, Ethyl Eichelberger, and David and Amy Sedaris.
In addition to Ms. Sullivan, whom he married in 2001, Mr. Murrin is survived by a sister, Patricia Jedynak.