"Oh, my God," I said. "They just ruined your play."
"What do you think, can you do it?"
"Jack, there's a lot of stuff in there that needs work."
"Can't we have a reading of it?"
"I don't see how I can do that."
The next thing I know, he came in with A.J. Antoon, who was one of my prime directors at that point, terrific, a marvelous disposition and a whimsical mind.
"Joe," he said. "I think this is a good play, and I'd love to direct it. Can't we have a reading of it?" Jason came in again, brought his wife in, his kids were there too, laying it heavily on me, and I'm a sucker for that. So I said OK to the reading.
A.J.Antoon, director: I left the Yale Drama School in the middle of my second year and came to New York. I did a workshop at St. Clement's Church of a Chekhov Story Theater and an actress who saw it set up a meeting with Joe Papp.
Joe seemed very friendly, very in control, smoked a large cigar during the whole thing. I think he was impressed with the fact that I didn't like Yale. He said he didn't want to do the Chekhov, but he liked my work, and if I could come up with another project, he would give me the space.
I ran into Jason on the street one day, and he was very, very, very depressed that these Broadway producers had dropped his play.
I said, "Joe is the writer's producer. Why don't I go in and say, 'Joe, they've ruined this guy's play. What do you think?' " And that's exactly what I did.
"I used to like that play," Joe said. "That play's been on my shelf. I was thinking of doing it at one point."
Jason was acting in a play in Washington, D.C., and I suggested that I go down there. And before and after his performance we would sit down and collate the two scripts. Cutting and pasting and retyping, we put together a new script and brought that to Joe.
Miller: I was down in Washington doing "Juno and the Paycock" with Geraldine Fitzgerald and A.J. came down with the two scripts.
We stayed for a week in this very cold, drafty apartment in a place called Turkey Thicket, and we rewrote and rewrote. At the end of that week, we came right back to the original script that was plucked out of the air, not a word changed. Not a word.
He brought it to Joe, and Joe said, "I'm not interested."
Joe was into expanding the consciousness of the American theater, à la avant-garde stuff, derivative European stuff, competition against La Mama. He was very anti-Broadway, very anti-commercialism, very anti-star system. He was looking for the playwright with newness, I suppose, and this was a three-act play because these were three-act people.
But Joe had loved "Subject to Fits," and he was intrigued that A.J., who seemed to be the Ionesco director of our time, got involved in this traditional, boxed, three-act play. And he said to A.J., "Let me hear a reading of it. You cast it. You guys pick it." He gave us total artistic freedom. We knew actor's actors, no stars, no great names, but guys who were powerful and solid, whose egos would be submitted to the service of the play.
Antoon: We put together a wonderful cast: Patrick McVey played the Coach, Chuck Cioffi played the businessman, and Charles Durning, Walter McGinn and Michael McGuire played the parts they later had in the full production.