Mark Levine is a coordinator in SI's production department, a man who helps see to it that in the rush of words and pictures produced by our staff on deadline, the right things get to printing plants around the country at the right time. But Levine's true calling is theatrical production.
For him, the play's the thing, and in the 17 years he has been affiliated with SI, Levine has used his flexible hours and leaves of absence to write and produce dramas. Last month, his one-act play Mutual Bond was staged in London at the West End's Cafe Theatre, the rough equivalent of an Off-Off Broadway theater in New York. The play, a dialogue between an old man and woman in a nursing home, was financed by an impressive group of actors and playwrights: Alec Guinness, Alan Ayckbourn and Tom Stoppard, among others.
"Mutual Bond took two weeks to write and 14 years to get produced," says the 41-year-old Levine. One of the first people to read it was Andre Laguerre, the managing editor of SI when Levine first joined our staff in 1972 as a production clerk. When Levine finally summoned the courage to show Mutual Bond to Laguerre, he got back a note that read: "I found it consistently gripping, sparely and sensitively written." Laguerre died in 1979, but his encouragement meant a great deal to the neophyte playwright.
Levine started writing plays when he was a 19-year-old Air Force paramedic stationed in Seville, Spain. After three years in the service, he worked for a brief time in a nursing home in Denver, an experience that was the basis for Mutual Bond. "I wasn't ready for it—my first week there, three people died," he says. "But it was then I decided I wanted to write about our attitudes toward old people."
Levine's big break came last year when British playwright Harriet Cutler read Mutual Bond and persuaded Guinness & Co. to mount a co-production of it with one of her own plays about the elderly, Fling Away Ambition. Now the success of Mutual Bond has generated interest in three of Levine's other dramas.
Should these projects bear fruit, he may have to take another leave of absence from our production department, but he's unfazed by the prospect. "I feel I have a unique relationship with the magazine," he says. "Hemingway said the first thing an artist must do is find a way to survive, and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has definitely been my survival."