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Small Casts

Another Antigone (1987)

2m, 2w, fluid set. DPS


Here is one of my many attempts to respond in a contemporary way to a classical work, in this case Sophocles’ great play about rebellion and civil authority. My Creon character is based to some degree on a colleague and friend with whom I taught in the School of Humanities at M.I.T. He was portrayed movingly by George Grizzard in the original production at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego and at Playwrights Horizons in New York. He was staunchly supported by Debra Mooney, who played the Dean of Students. My Antigone, played by Marissa Chibas, herself the daughter of a Cuban revolutionary, is a compilation of several of students from my teaching years. I was also influenced by the essay on “Odysseus’ Scar” in Eric Auerbach’s book MIMESIS, which analyzes the difference between the Greek and the Hebraic ways of looking at the world. If this makes my play sound slightly academic, I suppose it is. Maybe it’s for this reason, despite our fine cast, we didn’t do very well in New York. On the other hand, the play has managed to find some subsequent success on the stages and in the classrooms of various schools and universities.

Ancestral Voices (1999)

3m, 2w; no set. BPP


I understand that in this country, especially in the Midwest, there’s a way of doing plays which is called “Reader’s Theatre.” I don’t know much about it, but I do know that this play, like my Love Letters before it and Screen Play which followed later on, can only work if they are read by actors in front of an audience. These three plays, which jump from place to place and deal with large numbers of characters, would never submit to the restraints and limitations of long rehearsals and traditional staging. Love Letters gets its power by the very fact that its two lovers are confined within letters, and Screen Play pretends to be the scenario for a movie, but I have to admit Ancestral Voices has only its own excuse for simply being read aloud.


I wrote it about my maternal grandparents, probably because at that time I had become a grandparent myself. In the process, I was influenced by specific events and details from my own family, but by the time I finished the play, it contained as many differences as similarities. If I were younger, or had a cousin in Hollywood, I might have originally aimed this story for the screen. Yet when I write, I seem to do better if I have in mind the image of live actors performing in front of responsive audiences. Besides, the theatre, which is an ancient and, in some ways, an outmoded medium, seems to be the best medium for presenting the ancient and outmoded customs which were once so much a part of my life. In any case, for whatever reason, Ancestral Voices works best simply as a sit-down reading. (I once saw a partially staged version which somehow let out all the steam.)


We began to offer the play on successive Sunday and Monday nights at Lincoln Center while another play of mine, Big Bill, was following the conventional Tuesday through Saturday schedule of performances. Our opening night cast for Ancestral Voices consisted of Elizabeth Wilson, Edward Herrmann, David Aaron Baker, Blythe Danner, and Philip Bosco, all of whom seemed easy and comfortable with the form. When the play’s run was extended, the many subsequent teams brought charm and variety to the story. I’ve occasionally performed it myself, playing my own grandfather.


Black Tie (2011)

3m, 2w, single set. DPS


There’s a lot of luck involved in the theatre, as I guess there is in life, but still this play turned out to be one of my luckiest. To begin with, it took very little time to write. The title came first, and once I had that, along with the notion of the protagonist’s father emerging from behind a mirror, the play almost seemed to write itself. I wrote it during a brief two month period in the spring of 2009. and until rehearsal, did very little rewriting and even then very little more. Possibly this sense of ease and enjoyment occurred because I found myself returning to so many of the themes I have wrestled with before. There I was, wrestling with a father-son relationship, an offstage social gathering of some importance, and cultural and generational conflicts within a particular family. But my luck didn’t stop simply with the writing of the script. I immediately sent it to my friend and collaborator Mark Lamos, who had directed several of my earlier plays, and I was lucky enough to have him find a slot in his busy schedule to take on this one. With Mark at the helm, the play landed on the desks of those few Broadway producers who are still around, who at least rejected it with a few compliments and some thoughtfulness. Primary Stages, a vibrant off-Broadway company which has produced three other plays of mine, picked the play up immediately, and scheduled it for early 2011 at their eminently convenient and congenial theatre at 59 East 59th Street. So we climbed aboard. We were lucky again in that our auditions almost immediately garnered four extremely competent actors (Gregg Edelman, Carolyn McCormick, Elvy Yost, and Ari Brand) happened to be available, while the fifth (Daniel Davis) fell into our laps at the last minute. Rehearsals went well and I found the right places to cut in the right way. I’ve never had as much luck as I’d like with the critics over the years, but this time out, most them seemed to appreciate what we were doing, and so the play has been selling out, and wasblack tieextended for an additional week, and generally pleasing audiences along the way.

At the age of 80, I feel personally fortunate to have come up with what one might call a hit play, even if it is only playing in a smallish theatre for a relatively short time. I’m not at all sure I have many more plays under my belt, but even if I don’t, I can hardly complain after having written Black Tie. It has been, for me at least, a particularly rewarding experience from beginning to end, providing the collaborative joys and audience responses which engaged me when I first was attracted to this strange and wonderful profession many years ago.




Buffalo Gal (2001-2008)

3m, 3w, single set. BPP


Every play has its own trajectory, and this one has had a particularly unusual one. It began with a reading at Lincoln Center, went on to a fine production at the Williamstown Theatre Festival with Mariette Hartley playing the lead, then graduated to another good run at Buffalo’s Studio Arena Theatre, with Betty Buckley doing the honors. Yet for about five years after that, nothing much happened to it. Finally, after writing several other plays, I found that Buffalo Gal was still tugging at my sleeve. The original director, John Tillinger, was unavailable to work on it any more, so I offered the play to Mark Lamos, with whom I had worked several times before. Together we cut it, eliminated the intermission, tinkered with the ending, and brought the play up to date. The producers at Primary Stages, who by that time had done several other plays of mine, were willing to give this lady with a checkered past another chance.


Meanwhile American culture had changed as well, and the themes of obsolescence and loss in the play seemed now to have more relevance. So we opened almost eight years after the play’s first reading, with an excellent star, Susan Sullivan, and an unusually good supporting cast composed of James Waterston, Mark Blum, Jennifer Regan, Carmen M. Herlihy, and Dathan Williams, We garnered a generally enthusiastic response from the New York critics. Our audiences, too, were enthusiastic, buying into the play from its first preview and enabling us to extend our limited run. So it looks like this pre-owned vehicle, refurbished, tuned up, and differently detailed, may have finally turned out to be one of my more successful endeavors.


A Cheever Evening (1994)

3m, 3w; fluid set. DPS


I’ve always admired the work of John Cheever. The first serious play I ever wrote was an adaptation of his short story “The Day the Pig Fell in the Well”, and when I sent it to him, he gave me considerable encouragement. When I needed him to give me the rights to use elements of his “Goodbye, My Brother” in my play Children , he threw in the rights to the “Pig” story as well. A few years after Children was produced, I was asked to adapt his story “O Youth and Beauty!” for PBS television. In 1993, I found myself reading "Cheever’s Collected" Stories once again, and was struck again by the sharp specificity of his dialogue and the humor and mystery pervading so many of his pieces. I sketched out an evening of scenes and monologues from his work, where the first half would focus on stories set in Manhattan and the Westchester suburbs during the winter months, while the second half would deal with vacations, summer houses, and various centrifugal effects on the family. Don Scardino, at that time the Artistic Director of Playwrights Horizons, staged a fund-raising reading of this collage-like collection of scenes, and I invited Mrs. Cheever to take a look. She ultimately gave us the rights to present A Cheever Evening as a fully-staged play, so stage it we did, with a first rate cast. John Cunningham, Jack Gilpin, and Robert Stanton played Cheever’s restless men, while Mary Beth Peil, Julie Hagerty, and Jennifer Van Dyck played his anxious women.


During rehearsal, I found it challenging to shape Cheever’s distinctive literary turns for the very different needs of the stage. Our collaborative efforts were thickened by a rich background of popular music from the Forties and Fifties designed by Guy Sherman, and an efficient turn-table designed by John Lee Beatty. I sensed I was right in thinking that Cheever’s work, with the proper care, lent itself to the stage. Our production was well reviewed and popular with audiences. Unfortunately, Cheever is not much in fashion these days, so A Cheever Evening is not often revived, but I believe he will sooner or later be recognized one of our finest writers, and when he is, maybe this play will have a more active further life.


Children (1974)

1m, 3w, single set. DPS

Suggested by the John Cheever story, “Goodbye, my Brother”, this is a family play which takes place on the terrace of summer house on an island off the New England coast. It became one of my first successes in the theatre. I wrote it after having unsuccessfully trying to persuade my literature class at M.I.T. that Cheever’s story was first-rate. As I worked on the play, I appropriated more and more material outside of the story until I finally could say it was “suggested by” rather than “adapted from” Cheever. At that time, I wasn’t having much luck getting my work performed in the Boston area, but through the efforts of my agent, Children managed to find a lovely production in London with Constance Cummings playing the lead, and directed by Alan Strachan at the Mermaid Theatre in 1974.


The English critics are not always hospitable to American work, and it seems especially not to mine, but most of them liked this one. Its success in England gave the play enough momentum to interest producers in the U.S. and helped get me promoted at M.I.T. David Merrick optioned it for a while, and another New York producer dallied with it, before telling me that he’d put it on only if I paid for earphones and simultaneous translations for New York’s Jewish audiences. Ultimately Lynne Meadow at the Manhattan Theatre Club decided to run with the ball. Her production was directed by Melvin Bernhardt, and starred Nancy Marchand , Swoosie Kurtz, Holland Taylor, and Dennis Howard.


Interesting enough, Marchand’s role, that of a middle-aged widow who plans to remarry, is my own invention, not Cheever’s. The part has attracted many good actors over the years here and elsewhere: Constance Cummings in England, Lili Palmer in Germany, and Michelle Morgan in France. In the U.S., Sada Thompson took the play on a summer tour, and Katharine Hepburn toyed with bringing it to Broadway, but asked for many changes. She wanted me to bring on stage a character I had purposely kept off, and she proposed a different ending : “I can see myself, “ she said, “alone on stage, for a very long time.” We talked back and forth for several months until finally she announced, “Mr. Gurney, you have written an ensemble play. I happen to be a star.” So we shook hands and parted congenially. The play was subsequently optioned for television but never produced. It is still performed now and then at home and abroad.


The Cocktail Hour (1988)

2m, 2w; single set. DPS


This is a play about a play, and so could be called self-reflexive. Yet despite its post-modern tone, it is probably the most personal thing I had written up to this time. The play tries to work within the traditions of a comedy of manners, and simultaneously challenge those traditions as outmoded if not destructive. Because the details are so close to home, I promised my family not to let it be produced in Buffalo, my home town, until after both my parents were dead. I personally don’t feel that it’s terribly tough on either one of them, but the world I grew up in treasures its personal privacy and doesn’t enjoy being displayed on stage. And, of course, that’s the big issue in the play.


The Cocktail Hour, with Nancy Marchand, Keene Curtis, Holland Taylor, and Bruce Davison., and directed by Jack O’Brien, opened in San Diego to a disparaging review in the main newspaper. I’ve always admired the guts of its subsequent producers - Tom Viertel, Steven Baruch, Richard Frankel, with a strong assist by Roger Stevens - who still brought the play to New York despite its bad notice. It did well at the Promenade Theatre off- Broadway and has gone on to be performed in many theatress both in the U.S. and abroad. Googie Withers and her husband John McCallum toured it England and Australia, and the Italians took a crack at it, after changing the setting from Buffalo on Lake Erie to Bellagio on Lake Como. The Dutch did the play, too, but the translator neglected to translate the ending. When I saw a performance and pointed this out, the actors felt the play worked better without one.


Personal and quasi-autobiographical it may be, but its wide success may illustrate the point that the more specific you get in your writing, the more general the implications can turn out to be. In 2008, I saw a brisk revival of the play in New York done by the Theatre of the Blind, now called the Theatre Breaking Through Boundaries. This production was roundly slammed by a New York Times critic named Neil Gunslinger who thought my characters were “over-privileged”. I wish my father were still alive to read that one. He always felt we weren’t quite privileged enough.


Crazy Mary (2007)

3w, 2m, single set. BPP


This play takes off on a situation that happened to me in the late Fifties, though I tried to bring it up to date. In the process of writing it, I discovered that the story offered up a number of possible turns. I kept thinking “what if” and “why not.” Soon the characters had grabbed the reins themselves and ran off in their own directions. I suppose the play became what you might call a melodrama, but what’s wrong with that? I had discovered the special pleasures of what, to my mind, had become a good plot.

Crazy Mary was produced at Playwrights Horizons, my old stamping ground from The Dining Room days. I suspect that the basic situation - that of a woman, privately installed, long isolated and generally ignored in a posh private Boston sanitarium, who is “recalled to life” – is not for everyone, nor are the moral implications of how she is reintroduced to the world. The play in performance, directed by Jim Simpson, did seem to have a strong appeal to younger audiences, probably because of star appeal of Sigourney Weaver along with equally strong performances by Kristine Nielsen in the title role and Michael Esper, who plays her rebellious liberator. But so far I can’t say the telephone is ringing daily with frantic requests for future productions of Crazy Mary.

The Dining Room (1982)

3 m, 3w; simple set. DPS


In 1981, I took a sabbatical leave from teaching literature at M.I.T. and drove down to New York with the first draft of this play on the seat beside me. I planned to sublet an apartment for myself and my wife, and spend six months living it up in the big city. On this trip, I also arranged to meet with my agent Gilbert Parker, who already had received a copy of the play. Gilbert, God love him, told me he’d have difficulty endorsing a play with no real through-line and populated with characters who were so obviously out of the current loop. Certainly the play is oddly demanding in that it asks a small number of actors to play more than fifty roles of varying ages. It is also peculiarly constructed as it focuses on many different families going through their motions in a generic dining room for over fifty years, while the various scenes occur during the course of a single day. Yet it was the very obsolescence of the world the play presents which originally had prompted me to write about it. Indeed I first envisioned it being performed behind a velvet rope as if in a museum of antiquities, with actors presenting scenes as if they were enactments illustrating a long lost culture. But my agent didn’t dig any of that stuff. I slunk out of his office, but since my wife and I had already rented our house in the Boston area , I still committed us to a sublet in Manhattan, signed up for a course on Greek at Fordham, offered my services to the Fortune Society to teach ex-prisoners how to read, and planned to spend my sabbatical in New York in non-theatrical ways.

Meanwhile, on my own, I submitted The Dining Room to Andre Bishop, the Artistic Director of Playwrights Horizons whom I had met briefly before. He offered to give a reading to what he called The Dinner Party if I could dig up a director. Fortunately my friend David Trainer, a fellow playwright, thought he might like to direct the piece. The reading went well, and a sixty-seat space at Playwrights happened to be empty, so rather immediately we opened there, garnered decent reviews, moved downstairs to a larger space. Within a year, were playing not only in an open-ended run in the Astor Place Theatre in New York, but also had a second company warming up at the Kennedy Center. M.I.T. kindly granted me an “extended leave of absence”, so my wife and I stayed on in New York and our children became concerned about where to bring their laundry

The original cast of The Dining Room in New York was composed of Lois De Banzie, John Shea, Ann McDonough,. William H. Macy, Pippa Pearthree, and Remak Ramsay. In Washington, Frances Sternhagen and Barry Nelson among others presided at the table. The play’s subsequent success in regional theatres and abroad proves once again how much luck is involved in the theatre – as there is, I imagine, in most other enterprises. During the ensuing years, Gilbert Parker was a master at marketing the play, though I’ve continued to be afraid that he was right all along, and that my collage of scenes set in a generic dining room would become as outmoded and irrelevant as the finger-bowls it pokes fun at. But tricky though it is to do the play well, it still is performed both here and in Europe, and seems to hold up. A small cast of six serves it best, but more actors may be cast - as they usually are - in amateur productions.

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Family Furniture (2013)

2 M, 3 W; fluid set, DPS

This play is not so much about chairs and tables as it is about the inherited “furniture” which we all carry around in our heads to lean on, sit on, or learn to toss away. Like several of my other plays, such as What I Did Last Summer and Children, it is set in a summer community and explores the struggles of a younger generation to define and assert itself against the established values of its elders. The time is the summer of 1952, when the Korean War was beginning to heat up, Dwight D. Eisenhower was running for President, the country was nervous about the “communist menace”, and the so-called establishment culture was beginning to stretch itself thin and sometimes to give way. There are three basic plots concerning a young man, his older sister, and his mother, all of whom have fallen in love in less conventional ways. These several plot lines reflect and challenge each other, and the play is more interested in exploring questions than in finding answers. It was first produced in the fall of 2013 at the small and enterprising Flea Theater in lower Manhattan. Thomas Kail, fresh from several successes on Broadway, was the director. He was accompanied by a crew of imaginative designers for the set, the lighting, and sound. The five acting parts attracted an unusually talented group of professional actors who carried us into a long and successful run.



The Fourth Wall (1992; 2002)

2m, 2 w; single set. DPS


This play is a kind of meta-theatrical domestic farce which requires its four actors to be comfortable with an absurdest premise, concerned about American political issues, and capable of singing several first-rate songs by Cole Porter. It was first produced in 2002 during the first Bush administration, and had runs in various places after Clinton took the reins. The cast shifted as we changed venues, beginning with Tony Roberts, E. Katherine Kerr, Kelly Bishop, and Jack Gilpin, who opened it in Westport, took it on the summer circuit, and landed it for a brief sit-down run in Harvard Square.. It was done again in Chicago, with Betty Buckley, George Segal, Jean De Baer, and Mark Nelson, followed by an excellent production at the Pasadena Playhouse in California.

But it took ten more years for the play to land the way I hoped it would. The administration of George W. Bush gave me a more fitting target, and audiences by this time were more eager to collaborate in the play’s politics. So finally this latest version of The Fourth Wall arrived in New York, produced by Casey Childs and Andrew Leynse at Primary Stages, with Charles Kimbrough, Sandy Duncan. Susan Sullivan, and David Pittu. This production was deftly shepherded by the director David Saint, as were all its earlier tries, and we both felt a special pleasure seeing as our long labors come to final fruition. Since then, The Fourth Wall has continued to be performed around the country, but I suspect its appeal will diminish as we elect, I hope, a less limited leader.


The Golden Age (1983)

1m, 2w, single set. DPS


Influenced, to some degree, by Henry James’s novella “The Aspern Papers”, this play takes place in an old brownstone house on the upper east side of Manhattan, where a distinguished grande dame, once the toast of the town, now lives as a recluse, cared for by her anxious niece who has the tendency to tipple. An ambitious young professor from the Midwest arrives on the scene, hoping for a peek at the old lady’s private papers. His research suggests that she had a major affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald , who may have bequeathed her a racy chapter which he had withdrawn from THE GREAT GATSBY. The lady, on the other hand, has plans of her own for the future of her niece.


The play first opened at the Greenwich Theatre in London, directed by my friend Alan Strachan, with Constance Cummings in the lead. The Brits, I’m afraid, pretty much shrugged at our efforts, and I had the sense that they felt rather proprietary about Henry James, who had left America to live there.


When The Golden Age was produced in this country, it marked the first time I worked with the director John Tillinger, who would direct a good deal of my future work. We had high hopes for this one when we opened at the Kennedy Center. The play had a good Jamesian plot with a couple of neat twists and three juicy parts, which were here played by three excellent and starry actors, namely Irene Worth, Stockard Channing, and Jeff Daniels. Riding on their appeal and excellent notices from Washington, we sailed jauntily into Broadway where we lasted only a few weeks. Why we didn’t last longer I’ve never quite understood. Maybe the play was simply too old fashioned for New York audiences, or maybe, since we opened soon after David Mamet’s Glen Garry Glen Ross, we seemed too mannered and genteel. I suppose most playwrights have a play or two that they feel has gotten a bum rap, and I feel that way about this one, but I do have the hope that it will be revived some time in the future to a more favorable response. A shorter, modified version of this play, designed simply to be performed as a public reading by three actors, is available through my agent Jonathan Lomma at the William Morris Entertainment Agency.

The Grand Manner (2010)

2m, 2w, single set. DSP


The Grand MannerThis proved to be one of the best experiences I have had in the theatre. Produced in the Mitzi Newhouse theatre at Lincoln Center in the summer of 2010, it was an attempt to expand retrospectively upon a brief meeting I had had with the actress Katharine Cornell when she was playing in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in 1948. The director, Mark Lamos, and I had worked together several times before and were very much in synch from when I first showed him the play. I was also comfortable with the producer, Andre Bishop, who had done a number of my plays over the years. The cast of four - Kate Burton, Boyd Gaines, Brenda Wehle, and Bobby Steggert - all connected with each other beautifully and gave their characters a richness of dimension beyond what I thought I had written. The glamorous costume designs were rigorously researched by Annie-Huild Ward, and the set – the Green Room of a Broadway theatre – was created out of nothing by John Arnone since no Broadway theatres had Green Rooms at that time. During rehearsal, we tinkered very little with the script, confining ourselves to long discussions but few cuts, and once we were in previews, audience responses were enthusiastic enough to enable us to run with the ball pretty much without interference. Most of the critics were enthusiastic, though the New York Times, as is usual with my plays, gave us a disappointing shrug. In any case, audiences kept coming and responding, the actors kept growing in their parts, and The Grand Manner became an excellent example of why the theatre can be such an exciting profession when everyone works together so collaboratively.


The Guest Lecturer (1998)

2 m, 2, single set. BPP


This is an attempt to explore, dramatically and comically, the primitive roots of drama. It asks the audience, in effect, to collaborate on a ritual murder in the hope of purging the community of its inherent guilt. (I had tried to some degree the same sort of thing several years before in a shorter play called The Open Meeting, and of course Shirley Jackson deals with the same theme more seriously in her story The Lottery.) We opened the play at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey, directed by John Rando, with Robert Stanton, Nancy Opel, and Rex Robbins, all first rate actors and especially adept at comedy. I can’t say we bowled the audience over, though I noticed that whenever there were younger people in the house, the play seemed to pay off the way we had hoped it would. In New Jersey, I coupled it with a short one-act called Darlene, and five years later in New York, paired it with my more seasoned curtain-raiser, The Problem. Once again Primary Stages, as it had with The Fourth Wall and would again with Buffalo Gal,was willing to give a play of mine a second chance. This time, we opened it under the overall title of Strictly Academic, directed by Paul Benedict, with Susan Greenhill, Keith Reddin, and Remy Auberjenois. They were good actors and got most of our laughs all right, but maybe I’ve had enough of fertility rituals for a while.

Heresy (2012)


HeresyHeresy is the seventh play of mine to be produced by Flea Theater in the Tribeca area of New York City. Like my other work there, it was directed by Jim Simpson, who with the producer Carol Ostrow has been running this scrappy and ambitious theater for over ten years. They have several times given my own career a helping hand when I needed it, and provided an exciting arena for young acting aspirants called “Bats” to participate in many aspects of its many productions. Heresy itself took shape through several preliminary readings by both professional actors and Bats. These try-outs enabled me to adjust and shape the play so that we went into performance with very little rewriting. As with the initial readings, the ultimate production combined both Equity actors and Bats, and the two Bats involved here earned their Equity cards during the run. Heresy, as its title suggests, has a tricky premise in that it attempts to retell and, in some ways, amplify or demystify various accepted characters and incidents in the Gospels by placing them in a quasi- contemporary setting. My hope is to give a new and different perspective on a venerable old religion and to explore how it might pertain to modern American culture. At the Flea, we collected a first rate cast of actors who found both the essential seriousness of the story and brought out its potential for humor. Reg E. Cathey played Pilate, Annette O’Toole played Mary. Steve Mellor was Joseph, Ariel Woodiwiss was Lena (Magdelene), Danny Rivera played Pedro (Peter), and Tommy Crawford played Mark, a Gospel author. Contemporary values in the play were most baldly expressed by Phyllis, the materialistic wife of Pontius Pilate. Kathy Najimy played her amusingly for a few weeks until she left us for a lucrative television offer. Luckily we found an exceptional replacement for her in Karen Ziemba. The pressure of integrating a new actor into the production created a particularly warm and collaborative atmosphere. And since the play is ultimately about the special sanctity of the human community, the generous interplay between the actors embodied this theme. Heresy turned out to be one of the best productions I’ve had at the Flea.


Human Events (2001)

3m, 2w, fluid set. BPP


In 1977, I wrote a novel called “Entertaining Strangers” which almost got me sued. It was about life in the Humanities Department of “a large, technological institution in the Boston area”. I guess it hit too close to home. I ultimately escaped, bloody but unbowed, from my legal battles, but the book itself hung on for a while longer. Despite mildly mediocre reviews, it was published in paperback in the U.S. and republished in Britain, where it was compared unfavorably to Changing Places, a novel by David Lodge. Fifteen years later, I decided to turn my novel into a play called Human Events. It quickly found a fine production at the George Street Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey, directed by David Saint, its Artistic Director. Jack Gilpin played the put-upon hero and Kathleen McNenny his resilient wife, but the play, alas, never went beyond this production. I had flattered myself into thinking my plot was basically a neat twist on Moliere’s Tartuffe, and therefore it would transpose easily to the stage, but the New York Times strongly disagreed. The critic and I exchanged letters which did neither of us much good, and Human Events died a quiet death in New Jersey. Thinking about it now, I feel I did a pretty good job shaping the script for the stage, and have no complaints about the production, but the issues in the play, which had once obsessed me, may have become too parochial and unimportant by that time.

Labor Day (1998)

3m, 2w. Single set. DPS


This is –was – another attempt, after The Cocktail Hour, to write about myself and my family, though in this case, I turned to the next generation, namely my wife and children. The play was also supposed to be about how difficult it is to put on stage the people we love, particularly if they’re our children who, unlike our parents, are not fair game because they can’t fight back. There was also supposed to be a kind of autumnal feeling to the play, as suggested by the title, with a hint that winter was on its way both for the world of the play and the writer writing it.


In any case, Labor Day didn’t really work. Possibly we were doomed from the start since the natural censoring I had imposed upon myself and my family didn’t allow me to build up much dramatic steam. We opened the play at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, directed by Jack O’Brien, with a fine cast, headed by Josef Sommer, Veanne Cox, Brooks Ashmanskass, James Colby and Joyce Van Patten. A generous-spirited critic in San Diego dubbed our endeavors my “Oedipus at Colonus” but most the other notices were dismissive. We moved the same production into the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, but there the critics seemed also eager to pounce. Jack O’Brien did what he could to inject some additional juice into our endeavors, but to no avail. Despite our troubles, I do remain fond of the play and especially of its ending, which more explicitly dramatizes what the play was trying to do all along. That said, I don’t believe that Labor Day has had much of a life since its initial production, thought I’m told it went over well in Australia.


Later Life (1993)

2m, 2w, Single set. DPS


Henry James, once again, peeks out behind this one, as he did behind my play The Golden Age. His great story “The Beast in the Jungle” certainly influenced the play’s theme, which is about the ache and sadness of a life not lived. The plot, in my case, has to do with a divorced man who happens to reconnect with an old flame at a party on a terrace overlooking Boston harbor. Romantically directed by Don Scardino, the play focuses on a middle aged man who is unable to risk making a definitive move towards the woman who in the past and again tonight might offer him a more vital future, As the exuberant life of the party swirls around him, with many guests coming and going, interrupting, bickering, explaining, but always committed to living their lives, even as our hesitant hero seems unwilling or unable to change his own.


In casting the play, I ask for only two supporting actors to play these many characters partly in the hope of appealing to producers economically. But limiting the casting this way also dramatizes, through the versatility of the actors playing their several parts, that there is a variety of roles available to all of us in life. These parts, played initially by Carole Shelley and Anthony Heald, stand in contrast to the two leads, movingly played by Charles Kimbrough and Maureen Anderman., who are each locked into only one role. He, a native Bostonian, is trapped in the rigidities of his upbringing, while she, on a visit from Las Vegas, is unable to escape an addictive relationship with a used car dealer.


Whatever the implications of casting the play this way, I must admit that the need for quick changes off stage requires coordinated help from several people offstage, so the play isn’t quite as easy to present as I had originally hoped, even though, after its stint at Playwrights Horizons, it moved on to a regular run off-Broadway. I imagine, however, that non-professional productions have put more people on stage and fewer behind the scenes. Either way, the play is supposed to be a celebration of human possibilities and a sympathetic portrayal of those who will forever remain outside the party, frozen into playing only one part all their lives.

A Light Lunch (2008)

2m.2w, simple set , 2008 BPP


This was the fifth play I’ve written for the off-off-Broadway Flea Theatre, all of which were directed by Jim Simpson, the Flea’s canny artistic director. In this case, Jim cast the play with “Bats”, who make up the resident company of apprentice actors associated with his theatre. They do most of the grunt work associated with the plays performed there, and a good deal of the time act in them as well. I had written A Light Lunch during the summer of 2008, when the country was struggling through the crucial presidential election, while at the same time our lame-duck president, George W. Bush, seemed incapable of recognizing or acknowledging the tremendous damage he had done during his administration. I wanted my play done by young actors in front of young audiences since presumably they would be the generation who had to pick up the pieces and put them back together after Bush had gone. The Flea was obviously the place to stage this one, and fortunately Jim Simpson had a mid-winter slot available for an immediate production.

It is always a pleasure to work with Jim, who has a natural instinct for casting, a careful and patient way of working with young actors, and a keen sense of comedy. Together we made the usual cuts and changes that come with a new play. I enjoyed very much working with the cast, and watching them adapt their acting to the rhythms and emphases in my dialogue which were so different from their own. Despite the difficulties in scheduling rehearsals – since the all of our actors had various day jobs and both theatres at the Flea were already going strong with other projects during the rehearsal period - Jim managed to get the play on its feet in record time. We opened on December 19th after a small number of previews, and ran through January 25th , 2009, on a erratic schedule to accommodate various outside commitments of our actors and various pre-commitments of our stage.

Most plays require a particular kind of assent, or “willing suspension of disbelief”, on the part of their audiences. Certainly most of my comedies have asked for this over the years. In this case, A Light Lunch is a kind of political fantasy on the part of an aging playwright, and especially needs its audience to buy its premise. The New York Times critic, alas, would not have any part of it. He arrived with guns blazing, and even took a pot shot at my play Mrs. Farnsworth which had been done at the Flea a few years ago.. His review reminded me of a comment made by a friend who didn’t think much of my play Sylvia. “I just don’t think,” she said, “that a dog would use such vulgar language when confronting a cat.” In any case, the Times review was disheartening, as bad reviews always are. Indeed it reminded me very much of the review I received from the same magisterial newspaper when my first play to go to New York opened off-Broadway over forty years ago. I shudder to think that my career may be framed by these two uncharitable diatribes by such a powerful cultural arbiter, but we soldier on.

Love Letters (1988)

1 m, 1 w, no set, DP


love lettersThe only reason this became a play at all is that my agent and friend Gilbert Parker suggested it might work on stage. I had written it as an epistolary story and proudly sent it off to The New Yorker magazine, which proudly sent it right back, saying, “We don’t publish plays.” So with Parker’s encouragement, I persuaded an actress friend of mine, Holland Taylor, to read it with me at the New York Public Library in place of a lecture on “Wasps at Dinner”. The reading engaged the audience enough for Parker to offer the play to other theatres, and it was eventually picked up by the Long Wharf Theatre where it was directed by John Tillinger. We had to deal with Equity, which at first insisted on four weeks of rehearsal, and we wanted to use several actors who had previous commitments, so we finally decided to cast different teams of actors to play the parts on different weeks. We had planned to open with Joanna Gleason and John Rubinstein, but Gleason had a sudden call to re shoot a scene in a movie, so Ann McDonough, eight months pregnant, immediately took over the part, and, per usual, got all her laughs. We realized then how resilient and accommodating the play was to actors. The word got around, and soon we were running at the Promenade Theatre off Broadway, and at the old Edison Hotel on Broadway, later in Hollywood, and on a national tour with Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers.


Love Letters is about a fifty year love affair carried on primarily through letters, written in and about a world where letter-writing was very much a essential mode of communication, especially between men and women.. It’s easy to cast because it works for all ages, easy to produce because it doesn’t require a set, and easy to rehearse because its letters are read rather than memorized and the actors remain seated throughout. (Jason Robards, who played it many times in New York and Boston, turned down the chance to play it in London saying, “I refuse to enter England sitting down.”) But Love Letters is a pleasure to play. I ought to know because I’ve done it several times myself. Its story, possibly because it ranges all over the world, seems to connect with audiences abroad as much as here at home. The only exception is, once again, England, We breezed into the West End with Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers, fresh from a lucrative tour in the U.S. and famous from their popular television series “Hart to Hart”. They and the play received angry thumbs down from the British critics, who seemed indignant that this weird non-play from an uncivilized former colony was being performed on the West End by lowly television stars. Elaine Stritch and George Peppard took over the parts, and tried to save the day, but no soap. I suppose the Brits see themselves as custodians of traditional theatre and were put off by our attempt to do something so brashly cast and so letters


Even in New York, the play never made much of a splash with the critical establishment. The New York Times gently dismissed it while The New Yorker didn’t even bother to review it. Still, over twenty years after its initial performance , Love Letters is still done regularly all over the world. Anouk Aimee and Alan Delon recently performed the French translation in Paris and a while back the Governor of California took a crack at it for a fund-raiser in Sacramento, though he and his wife-partner omitted the four-letter words. In fact, the play is so easy to put on stage that many times it is performed without paying royalties. It may have been done for a charitable or educational occasion, but since I’d prefer to donate to charities or institutions of my own choice, I keeping hoping people will pay up.


Love & Money (2015)

2 m, 3 w, Single set, DPS


This play was written rather swiftly and somewhat reluctantly during 2015. I was contractually obligated to write a third play fore the Signature Theater in New York, which was in the process of performing two of my earlier ones. It was directed by my longtime friend and collaborator Mark Lamos, the artistic director of the Westport CountryPlayhouse, and designed by Michael Yeargen who had designed sets for several other plays of mine. We all planned to preview the play in Westport before opening it officially at the Signature. but after the first reading, I realized; that I had much more to do to make this particular play “work”. For the next few months, I was constantly tinkering and rewriting, sending rewrites to Lamos and to the already cast and leading actor Maureen Anderman.  I found myself reverting to the processes of revision and change that I had thought I had Love and Moneygrown beyond. Now, at the age of 84, I was once again calling on many of the basic elements of my craft. With the help of Lamos and Anderman, and the other actors,I do feel we managed to turn a problematic work into a fresh and funny evening,punctuated with several moving moments.


By the time we opened I discovered that I had written a play close to my own bones, since my wife and I were in the process of downsizing and simplifying our lives. This was my third production in a row at the Signature, and I felt creatively exhausted, but I also felt proud of how together, playwright, director, and cast, we had built and improved this play. Many of the critics in this case were grimly unenthusiastic, but I’ve learned over the years that sometimes it takes folks a while to come around to my work, especially when it deals with class in America.


The Middle Ages (1978)

2m, 2w , single set, DPS


The title is supposed to suggest a long-lost world of faith and ceremony, but also to invoke those periods in our lives when we feel in the middle of things, torn between pulls in several directions. If this puts too much weight onto the title, you could simply describe it as a romantic comedy taking place, like Love Letters, over an extended period of time. The play is set in the musty trophy room of an venerable urban men’s club , immersed in the social and business life of an aging Midwestern city, and very different from the hedonistic country clubs which have emerged with the growth of the suburbs. The hero of The Middle Ages attempts to escape his conservative upbringing, as epitomized by the club, through various forms of rebellion, and he spends a large part of his life trying to persuade the woman he loves to rebel with him. His struggle is complicated by the fact that she happens to be married to his more conventional brother.

The Middle Ages, when it opened for a regular run in New York, was directed by David Trainer, who had cut his teeth on The Dining Room. The cast was composed of Jack Gilpin and Ann McDonough as the trysting lovers, with Andre Gregory and Jo Henderson playing their anxious parents. The play itself is anchored in a single set, which is normally a fairly detailed one, and requires all the characters to change their clothes and their assumptions as they move through the mid-forties on into the late eighties. (Later I sold the TV rights of this play to ABC’s Movie of the Week, which changed the title to His Brother’s Wife and cast John Ritter in the lead.)

I’m proud of how I put all this together and proud of its passionate feelings. It works best when the chemistry between the two leads is palpable, but I fear the play, like its title, portrays a world which has now pretty much faded into the past. If The Middle Ages works today – and it’s still done occasionally – it’s because the love story is strong enough in its own right to hold a contemporary audience.

Mrs. Farnsworth (2004)

3m, 3w, single set. BPP


This one has three attractive parts, and three small supporting ones. I wrote it very quickly when I was steamed up by what was happening in our country politically at that time. Possibly for this reason, I have no memory of actually writing it. All I know is that it was picked up almost immediately by my friend Jim Simpson and produced almost immediately at his Flea Theatre, a small but vibrant enterprise in the Tribeca area of Manhattan. The Flea had already done my play O Jerusalem and was earning a reputation around town as being something of a political gadfly. Simpson managed to enlist three first-rate actors – Sigourney Weaver, John Lithgow, and Danny Burstein - to play the leads.


Rehearsals and performances of this work proved to be among the most fortuitous experiences I’ve had in the theatre. Once again the script reflects my teaching experiences at M.I.T and again, as in Another Antigone or The Love Course, I ask the audience imagine itself to be students in a classroom. This is nothing new. Since we live in a fragmented society with a multitude of cultural assumptions, playwrights many times have to create audiences as much as the plays which speak to them. In the case of Mrs. Farnsworth, for example, since we are all in a writing class, it becomes easier to establish a communal sensibility, which presumably is what we want when we work in the theatre.


Most of the reviews of Mrs. Farnsworth were gratifying, and Weaver, Lithgow, and Burstein, along with several apprentices, delivered shining performances in the Flea’s relatively small space. Furthermore, despite its indignant politics, the play oddly enough seemed to surmount its own theme and grow into a study of a modern marriage.

O Jerusalem (2003)

2m, 3w, BPP


As one of it characters announces at the beginning of this play, it was written soon after 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was first performed at the Flea Theatre in lower Manhattan, a small, youthful organization which had recently gained a reputation for putting on plays with political implications. It would subsequently produce several other plays of mine during these anxious years. Jim Simpson, the artistic director, directed O Jerusalem himself at a time when I doubt if many other theatres in New York would have touched the play. He rounded up a first-rate cast headed by Stephen Rowe, who played a liberal Texan, and crony of President George W. Bush, whose State Department appointment takes him to the Middle East and into the turmoil swirling around 9/11. Rita Wolfe played a Palestinian woman whom he knew in simpler days, and Priscilla Shanks played his current female companion.


Simpson gave the play a brisk, economical production with a slightly Brechtian tone, as the hero reconnects with his old Palestinian flame, gets caught up in local politics, becomes radicalized and is finally killed. The easy relationship between the playing area and the audience at the Flea Theatre enabled us to incorporate late-comers in an original way: they’d have to cross the stage during a party scene at the Jordanian embassy, whereupon the actor playing the American ambassador would introduce them to our visiting hero before sending them on to their seats.


If this device helped build a communal effect, I have to admit that that the play also stepped on a few toes.. The nation of Israel doesn’t get off the hook in this one, with the result that O Jerusalem became the only play I’ve written to have been reviewed twice by the New York Times, both times as “flawed” and “misguided.” Nonetheless, O Jerusalem was revived fairly recently in 2008 in a one-night reading sponsored by the Public Theatre. With Bill Irwin playing the lead , supported by the rest of the original cast, it seemed to hold up fairly well both in the performance and during the discussion afterwards which was chaired by former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Office Hours (2010)

3m, 3w, multiple set. DPS


This play is my attempt to capture a sense of what might be called “the teaching experience”, at least as it occurred to me and a number of colleagues in the Department of Humanities at M.I.T., where we taught a core course in “Great Books” during the sixties and early seventies.. At that time, this was a required course, populated primarily by freshmen and taught by junior faculty, and increasingly challenged by students eager to devote themselves more completely to science or engineering and by faculty restless to teach and develop their own professional interests. Furthermore, during those times, the world was changing rapidly around us, office hoursso our course was having difficulty defending its relevance. In any case, the challenges of teaching these rich old texts under all these personal, political and cultural pressures seemed to me to offer possibilities for drama.


So I wrote the play Office Hours for the Flea Theater, a scrappy and experimental organization in lower Manhattan, which had already produced several other plays of mine. The Flea’s Artistic Director, Jim Simpson, and I agreed that the play would best be performed by “The Bats”, a troupe of young pre-Equity actors connected to the Flea. They are garnered from annual auditions and perform, take tickets, and serve in many other aspects of production during the course of the year. During their auditions for OFFICE HOURS, the youth, energy, and imaginative talents of these aspiring actors proved so engaging that Simpson decided to mount not one but two casts of the play, to be called the Homer Company and the Dante Company, who would rehearse separately and perform alternately during the run. Simpson invited both companies to spend part of their rehearsal time at his camp in the Adirondacks before returning to New York and opening in the fall. As the performances took shape, I found it fascinating to see the differences as well as the similarities between the two companies, and to admire the gutsy choices and commitments made by these enthusiastic young actors. I also found a special personal pleasure in working collaboratively with people who were less than half my age. In any case, youth will be served and the critics, on the whole, were kind to both companies.


The Old Boy (1991)

4m, 2 w, fluid set, DPS


I could tell I might have trouble with this one when, during rehearsal, I had a civilized disagreement with the excellent designer Jane Greenwood about a costume for the character of Alison. I realize now that the part was not clearly written, at least for the stage. Maybe she belongs more in a novel than in a play. The issue here was what a woman, once a “townie” waitress at a restaurant on Martha’s vineyard, would wear many years later to a posh reception at a fancy boy’s boarding school. The only help I give in the stage directions is that she is “well dressed.” In any case, Jane and I worked out a compromise – not always a good thing – and went into previews.


The play was being produced in the small upstairs theatre at Playwrights Horizons. It was directed by John Rubinstein, with Stephen Collins, Clark Gregg, Matthew McGrath, Elizabeth McKaye and Nan Martin all doing yeoman service in a tricky story, rife with flashbacks. The previews were working well enough to attract some serious interest from a couple of Broadway producers , but when the reviews appeared, all smiles stopped.


The Old Boy has a complicated plot, oscillating back and forth from the past to the present as it dealt with a closeted homosexual youth and the AIDS epidemic, rife at that time. Thinking about it now, I’d say the biggest problem of this play is not its elitist setting nor its controversial theme but rather a playwriting mistake. Toward the end of the second act, I ask for the lead actor to deliver a long, climactic, confessional speech delivered to a graduation audience. It’s not a bad speech – I worked endlessly over it – but it doesn’t really work as is. We should be watching the effects of the speech on other characters in the play, not confined to looking at, and listening to, the speaker. The whole scene might work more successfully in the movies where the camera could move from face to face as the various characters listen to it. In fact, you could argue that The Old Boy, with its flashback structure and appealing parts, probably should have been written as a movie in the first place. Indeed, I did sell it to Hollywood soon after the play opened, but the film was never made. A shorter, trimmer version of this play, which was used during its revival by the Keen Theater in the spring of 2013, is available through my agent Jonathan Lomma at the William Morris Entertainment Agency.

The Perfect Party (1986)

2m, 3w, single set. DPS


This one is based on the rather wacky notion that a man would plan and give what he hopes will be a perfect party, and be deluded enough to invite a New York Times critic to review it. It is obviously, perhaps like too many of my other works, a play about the theatre. It has some good twists and some good laughs, and at its best, might almost evoke one of those Moliere plays where an obsessed protagonist gets caught up in an exaggerated and ludicrous passion.


I can’t say this is the most profound play ever written, but it certainly was fun to write and fun to stage with my director friend, John Tillinger For a while, too it was fun for audiences. The cast - John Cunningham, Debra Mooney. Kate McGregor-Stewart, Charlotte Moore, and David Margolies - were all first-rate and extremely funny. To watch Charlotte Moore as the Times critic consume an entire plate of hors d’oeuvres as she delivered a long speech saying why she was refusing to review the party it was hilarious, at least to me.


The play went on to the Kennedy Center with George Grizzard and Elizabeth Ashley, and toured the summer circuit as well, and had a run in at the Greenwich Theatre in London. It is still done occasionally in community theatres. In the end, its success depends on how much we buy into the hero’s desperate desire to entertain and please the critics. This, of course, was my own futile obsession at that time in my life, and I hope I’m beginning to get over it.


Screen Play (2005)

4m, 2 w, no set. BPP


Here is another play, like Love Letters, designed to be read by actors, this time standing at music stands. This is also another play set in my hometown, Buffalo, New York. And I have to say it is another play with a strong underlying political theme. It is intended to be a kind of homage to, and reworking of, the movie CASABLANCA, and I suspect it works best when the audience is at least somewhat familiar with this great classic. We did this play off-off-Broadway in a small space at the Flea Theatre, casting it with young, non-Equity actors who were just entering the profession. Their youthfulness and energy, coupled with the simple but ingenious staging by Jim Simpson, made Screen Play into something of a success here in New York and I hoped it would be picked up by many schools and colleges. But so far, it hasn’t been done much. Maybe CASABLANCA is no longer the icon it has always been to me and my generation, or maybe my play’s political paranoia, which sees a parallel between German occupations of various countries in the early Forties to the Bush administration’s recent intrusions into American life, is a conceit that doesn’t hold up in the long run. We’ll see…


Post Mortem ( 2006)

2w, 1m; simple set. BPP

This is a fantasy about myself, set in the future long after I’m dead, when at last my plays have come to be recognized as a powerfully subversive influence on American life. The political themes I had been exploring through several other plays at the Flea Theatre, an off-off Broadway organization in the Tribeca area of Manhattan, are here again, and probably as annoying as ever. This play is easy to stage and Tina Benko and Christopher Kromer made it look like fun to act. On the other hand, I’m not sure its wild notions and expansive fantasies are what an audience wants or needs these days. It’s certainly exciting to dream that a good play can change the world, and even more exciting to imagine that it’s one of your own, but "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" this was not. The play had a brief run in Los Angeles, but to my knowledge has not been produced elsewhere.


Sweet Sue (1986)

2m, 2w, single set, DPS


This play started as a contemporary version of the Phaedra story, where an older woman falls in love with a younger man. In the process of writing it, I realized it might be a good vehicle for Mary Tyler Moore who I had heard wanted to try acting on stage. She was sent the script and allowed as how she’d like to try playing it away from New York, Under the direction of John Tillinger and with the encouragement of Nikos Psacharopolos at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, we presented it up there with Mary, Maria Tucci and two young actors.


The play was picked up by the producer Arthur Whitelaw and friends who, with Lynn Redgrave now playing opposite Mary, took it first to the Wilbur Theatre in Boston and then to the Music Box Theatre on Broadway, where the second string critic of the New York Times, pretty much dismissed it. Most of the other critics were also persuaded that our work wasn’t worth much attention. Despite weak reviews, the pull of the two stars and their fine performances enabled us to run for over six months, including a move to the Royale Theatre.

Looking at Sweet Sue now, I still feel the play got a raw deal. Ostensibly a two-hander, I tried to expand the form by calling for two women and two young men, each to play the same part. As the playwright, I found this “device” both exciting and liberating in that I could move the plot along with easy efficiency, and turn what would have been interior monologues into conflicting dialogues between the two actors laying the same person. I purposely avoided the easy Freudian categories, where, for example, one actor might play the id and the other the superego, even though some of the critics, and probably some of the audience, were quick to view the play this way, and were disappointed when it didn’t seem to follow suite. But my intention in Sweet Sue was that the actors each would play complete versions of their characters, almost as if we were seeing two different productions of the same play blended together. In my more hubristic moments, I felt like a Picasso of dramatic form, asking the actors to present simultaneously two valid but different perspectives on their characters.. Maybe I got the idea for it from viewing auditions for earlier plays, where I had seen two different but equally compelling approaches to the same part. In any event, when we finally closed, I put the play down as an unsuccessful experiment. Yet I recently saw a revival at a small theatre in New Jersey, and I was surprised by how engaging its form turned out to be, and how willingly a contemporary young audience played along with it.

Sylvia (1995)

2 m, 2w, minimum; fluid set, DPS


It took me several years to get this play on stage because most of the theatres we offered it to felt it was insulting to women to be asked to play a dog. Ultimately Lynne Meadow at the Manhattan Theatre Club, who admitted she wasn’t nuts about dogs, had no problem with asking Sarah Jessica Parker to take a crack at it. Charles Kimbrough picked up the leash, and Blythe Danner agreed to defend the domestic tranquility. In auditions, we found a first-rate actor named Derek Smith who played all the other parts, male and female. So we were off and running.


I consider this play to be a variation on the plot of the menopausal married male falling in love with an enticing young girl – only in this case, the girl happens to be an adorable stray dog named Sylvia, or “she of the woods.” The man’s affection for her costs him his job and almost his marriage. The play works best when the dog is played straight, with no attempt to be arf-arf or cutsie-poo. After all, this is first and foremost a love story and should be treated as such.


They say that great ideas can be contagious at certain times. A few years after my play was produced, Edward Albee took a more drastic look at the same subject in a play where a man falls passionately in love with a goat. The protagonist becomes so serious about his relationship that his wife determines to kill the animal. My Sylvia dies, too, but being a sentimental soul, I have her death bring about a return to marital harmony. I don’t know whether Albee’s s goat’s name is Sylvia or not, but he subtitles his play “Who is Sylvia?” which I like to think is an homage to mine. Or else he is simply quoting Shakespeare’s poem, “Who is Sylvia?” as I do in my play. In any case, both plays have done well. Mine has played all over the world, from France to China - except for England, where a snappy production directed by Michael Blakemore and starring Zoe Wanamaker was roundly dismissed by the British critics with the same impatience that they’ve shown toward my other work. I suspect Albee’s play did well there, proving that the English fall in love more easily with goats than with dogs.


For more conservative audiences as well as for high school drama projects, I’ve modified what the dog says when she confronts a cat, and for amateur productions the male swing role may be distributed among three different actors. I understand that some productions have cast a woman to play these different parts, but I don’t think a woman playing a man is half as funny as a man playing woman.


Two Class Acts

AJAX; 1 m, 1w, classroom set
SQUASH. 2 m, 1 w; 4 partial sets.


Two Class Acts is composed of two separate plays, each about an hour long. They can be performed over the same evening, or separately at different times by different organizations in different places. Both plays call for small casts and simple sets, and both deal in various ways with classical Greek culture as it continues to affect us. These two plays of mine were the last to beWhat I did Last Summer performed by the original Flea Theater on Church Street in theTribeca area of New York City. Over the years, this gutsy organization has presented much new work, my own included. It has now bought a building in the same general area, but

several blocks south . Within this building, the Flea has carefully designed and built several different types of spaces for various kinds ofplays, along with ample administrative and rehearsal spaces to attend them. Since the Flea has consistently been the home of talented people involved in all aspects of the theatre, we can look forward to many exciting works emerging from their new spaces.

Graphic design: David Prittie


What I Did Last Summer (1982)

2m. 4w; fluid set, DPS


Taking place at the end of World War II, this play works a twist on the old captivity story, once popular in Puritan New England, where a child is stolen by Indians and becomes won over by the natural simplicity and freedom that comes with the Native American culture. In my play, a fifteen year old boy is “captured”, by an artsy woman who gives him a summer job in 1945, when World War II is still raging and there are fewer men around to work on her land. The boy’s employer is part bohemian and part Native American, and her values open him up to a world very different from the contained and respectable world he is used to. Since the boy’s father is fighting overseas, his mother is alone in her struggle to bring her son back into her “stockade”. There are some good parts for younger actors here, and juicy roles for both the subversive “Pig Woman” who has captivated the boy and for the mother who ultimately has to defeat her.

After a successful run on the summer circuit with Eileen Heckart playing the lead, the play opened in New York at the Circle Repertory Theatre, a generous–spirited., cooperative organization on Sheridan Square, run by the playwright Lanford Wilson, the director Marshall W. Mason, .and the actress Tanya Berezin . Despite their good will, we had a complicated gestation period. One of the lead actors had to be let go late in rehearsal, and soon afterwards the original director was replaced as well. The substitute director refused to lend his name to the project. The night we opened, the toilet in the men’s room overflowed and a man had a heart-attack in the second row. The reviews weren’t much good, but I comfort myself into thinking the critics may have been perplexed by our lack of a director and distracted by what was happening in the audience. In any case, What I Did Last Summer has survived to find a healthy life in high schools, especially in Texas and the Southwest.



What I Did Last Summer (2015)

2m. 4w; fluid set, DPS


Afterthought: This play was revived in mid-2015 as the second of three plays I had been invited to offer under the auspices of the Signature Theater and its artistic director James Houghton. What I did Last Summer Imaginatively directed by Jim Simpson from the Flea Theater, who threw away most of the scenery the script had originally called for and gave it a simple background with occasional rear-screen projections, along with a professional drummer to introduce or punctuate its various scenes. The result was a group of wonderfully original performances by a first-rate case. What I Did Last Summer  had been reasonably successful in schools and colleges throughout the country over the past thirty years. But this new and fresh New York production felt especially rewarding and made me all the more appreciative of the variety and energy invoked by different productions of American plays.



For further information, please contact Jonathan Lomma at WME Entertainment byemail (
or write to Mr. Lomma at WME, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, N.Y., 10019.