A Remembrance of Playwright Lanford Wilson

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson passed away Thursday at 73. His plays have been widely performed at regional theaters around the country as well as on Broadway and on Off and Off Off Broadway. He won the Pulitzer for 1980's “Talley’s Folly” which ran for 286 performances on Broadway. 

In this week's Arts File, our host Kerry Nolan speaks to Time Out New York theater critic David Cote about the life and work of Lanford Wilson.

Guests:

David Cote

Hosted by:

Kerry Nolan

Produced by:

Daniel P. Tucker
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Comments [1]

A couple thoughts:

1) BALM IN GILEAD, though it premiered on the lower east side, was actually set in the drug-infested all-night diners that used to be scattered on the upper west Side, about the same time that the area around the 72nd Street subway station was called "needle park."

2) Wilson is too easily categorized as a traditional naturalistic playwright, but he had a terrific sense of theatricality (Wilder was a big influence on him) and never found a fourth wall he didn't want to tear down with various devices. Look at LEMON SKY, GREAT NEBULA OF THE ORION and SERENADING LOUIS.

3) He probably depicted more areas of this country than any other major American playwright. It's hard to find a corner (except maybe Hawaii) where he didn't set a script.

4) For all his reputation as a poetic writer, he also wrestled -- with considerable rigor -- with the world of the mind. He took a year off to study archeology before he undertook THE MOUNDBUILDERS cuz he wanted to get it right. And archeologists indeed verified that he got it right.

5) He wrote one of my favorite lines of a ll time in SERENADING LOUIS. A woman is talking about a moment in the past with her husband: "I didn't love him then. But I love him then now."

6) HOT L BALTIMORE is in previews at Steppenwolf, which had a long association with him -- including productions of FIFTH OF JULY, a staggering revival of BALM IN GILEAD, and BURN THIS.

He was a wonderful writer and an enthusiastic and generous colleague. I once dedicated a play to him (which I'm pleased to say he liked). He asked why the dedication? I said that given how much technique I'd borrowed from him, I either dedicated a play to him or he'd sue me for larceny. Lovely man.

Mar. 25 2011 02:05 PM

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