What does it take to be a Wild Man?



Artists, mobsters, taught Maguire ‘cognizance of risk’

Good evening. I’m the Wild Man. I know that if you were cruising the side shows of a carny you’d expect to see the Wild Man in a hairy suit locked up in a cage with thick steel bars. The guy who emcees the act provokes him with a pitchfork. Suddenly, in his rage, the Wild Man grabs the bars and with superhuman strength bends them apart and out he leaps, roaring for blood.

—Matthew Maguire, on stage

Offstage, he doesn’t look very wild. He looks like a nice clean-cut Irish-American guy with good strong face bones, which in fact is what he is. He says he’s a professor.

A professor?

“Yes,” he says. “for eighteen years now. A professor of theater at Fordham University, Lincoln Center, but I don’t let my students call me ‘professor.’ ”

What do you teach them?

“Acting and playwriting, and this semester a new course also: Collaboration. Because they’re always coming to us to mediate their conflicts, and that can burn out your faculty.”

Which sounds exciting enough, but in his one-man show, “Wild Man,” at a Lower East Side venue called The Wild Project, Matthew Maguire also talks about his off-and-on past relationship with runaway horses, menacing dogs, hungry sharks, snakes, alligators, mobsters, artists, virgins, strip girls, convicts, bullies, priests, Shakespeare, Stephen Crane, and a whole vast pharmacology of mind-bending substances.

At Sing Sing and other prisons he’s overseen theater groups. At Fordham, Catholic-bred Maguire is member of a Jewish Text Study Group digging into Emmanuel Levitas’s “Nine Talmudic Readings.”

There were, of course, many years in which Maguire, like any actor, put on a tuxedo — a “penguin suit” — to wait on tables at any number of eateries, starting in Greenwich Village at One if by Land, Two if by Sea.

“So now, when I have to wear a tuxedo, I feel like a servant.”

The roster is impressive.

“I’ve waited on Jackie Kennedy. Louise Nevelson, Edward Albee, Miles Davis — oh, what a presence! — [Isamu] Noguchi, Paul Newman, Mick Jagger…”

And then there was Andy Warhol, who could knock back gallons of dry vodka martinis with a twist. “He was a Wild Man.”

One night Warhol said to waiter Maguire: “You’re a playwright. Do you write a play a day? Because I paint a painting every day.” Maguire knew “how many people he employed in his studio [‘The Factory’ it was called] to make his work, [so] I thought this was horseshit, but I said: I’ll try it out. Tonight’s one of my efforts,” he confides in his performance. “It pays to talk to wild men.”

There was Godfather Carlo Gambino, who sent the chef a hundred dollar bill to make him a special meal.

And there was Paul Castellano, another capo di capo, who many times came in with a retinue to an elite East 80s townhouse restaurant owned by a gentleman who, says Maguire, “had given a wing” to the neighboring Metropolitan Museum.

Maguire remembers Castellano as “a singularly uninteresting man, the least interesting person at the table. If you asked: ‘Who is the leader here?’ no one would have said Castellano.”

Paul Castellano got a lot more interesting on the night of December 16, 1985 — when he was shot dead by party or parties unknown, as he was about to enter, not the elite establishment in the 80s, but Spark’s Steak House on East 46th Street.

“My play,” says playwright Maguire “is full of questions, like What is a Wild Man? It’s someone who lives on the edge; in Castellano’s case, someone who lives with murder until, in the end, it kills him too. But Castellano wasn’t a real Wild Man. He’s more like a shark that knows only how to do one thing — move forward, eating everything in its path.

“It takes one other thing to be wild,” Maguire says. “Cognizance of risk. The question is: How can we keep risk alive? As my friend musicologist Susan McClary puts it: ‘How do we wake the mummy from the tomb, and break its legs before it reaches us?’ ”

Matthew Maguire, who lives on Greene Street with the girl he met way back at NYU, Susan Mosakowski, was born in Troy, New York, August 14, 1952. His mother is a retired nurse. His father is a retired engineer who helped design the TOW missile, and got furious “when Reagan lied about it — that was when my dad stopped being a Republican.”

Then there is brother Michael Maguire, two years younger than Matthew. One summer night back in the ’80s, Matthew and Mike “are coming out of the ART [Robert Brustein’s American Repertory Theatre] up at Harvard “when a guy runs past us at high speed. In his hand he has a wallet. Right behind him is a guy yelling: ‘Stop him! He ripped me off!’

“Not wanting to seem apathetic in front of Mike, I run after the thief. This was when I could still run fast.”

In the darkness, in the middle of Radcliffe Gardens, the thief turns and confronts Maguire. “He has the wallet in his left hand and a knife in the right. At that moment, what do I do? If I run away, I’ll be a coward in Mike’s eyes. But only an idiot would not run. I’m intent on doing the right thing. And I say: ‘Give me the wallet.’ And he does. It’s like Henry, the soldier in Stephen Crane’s ‘Red Badge of Courage.’ The first time, in battle, Henry runs away. The second time he runs forward into a hail of bullets.”

Postscript: “I walk out and hand the wallet to its owner. I’m a hero. Then I learn that the guy I risked my life for is a drug dealer, and this is a deal gone bad. A somewhat skewed look at heroism.

“Wild men don’t have to be smart. But they gotta know how to run.”