Friday, March 25, 2011

Remembering Lanford Wilson

I got to know Lanford Wilson, who died yesterday at 73, in the late 1980s when we both were taking the waters at the Lion's Head. He was bright, witty in a down-home way, with southern Missouri Ozark roots, and kind. Through him I met Tanya Berezin, artistic director of Circle Repertory Company, which occupied a playhouse across Sheridan Square from the Head. Through my introduction to Tanya I got involved with Circle Rep, serving on the board of their fund-raising group. I also got to meet some other playwrights, including Craig Lucas, Athol Fugard, A.R. "Pete" Gurney, and Terence McNally, and to see their plays. I saw Lanford's Burn This and Craig's Prelude to a Kiss on Broadway, Lanford's Redwood Curtain in a special performance while it was still in development, and a dramatic reading of his earlier play The Hot L Baltimore. I'll always be grateful to Lanford for this introduction to the world of theater.

Lanford had an amazing ability to enter the heads of different sorts of people and to write convincing dialogue for them. Seeing his plays made me empathize with characters I couldn't have imagined liking. His vision was unsparing, but ultimately forgiving, if not optimistic.

So the litany of old Lion's Head regulars departed continues. This past year we have lost David Markson, Paul Schiffman, and Vic Ziegel. Going back a few more years we have Liam Clancy, Dennis Duggan, Frank McCourt, Cicely Nichols, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.. A hazard of getting older is having to say goodbye too many times.