Today was the birthday of the award winning playwright LANFORD WILSON. (d: 2011) Considered one of the founders of the Off-off Broadway theater movement, Wilson received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1980, was elected in 2001 to the Theater Hall of Fame and in 2004 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Wilson began his active career as a playwright in the early 1960s at the Caffe Cino in Greenwich Village, writing one-act plays such as Ludlow Fair, Home Free!, and The Madness of Lady Bright. The Madness of Lady Bright premiered at the Caffe Cino in May of 1964 and was the venue’s first significant hit. The play featured actor Neil Flanagan in the title role as Leslie Bright, a neurotic aging queen.
The Madness of Lady Bright is considered a landmark play in the representation of male homosexuality. It was the longest running play ever to appear at the Caffe Cino, where it was performed over two hundred times. Wilson was subsequently invited to present his work off-Broadway, including his plays Balm in Gilead and The Rimers of Eldritch.
Wilson was a founding member of the Circle Repertory Company in 1969. Many of his plays were first presented there, directed by his long-standing collaborative partner, Marshall W. Mason. The Circle Rep’s production of Wilson’s The Hot l Baltimore won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, and the Obie Award, and in 1979 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Talley’s Folly.
Wilson’s style and approach evolved over the years, sometimes resulting in drastically different effects. Some of his plays are extremely radical and experimental in nature while others clearly have a more mainstream, if still creative, sensibility. His first full length play, Balm in Gilead, is perhaps his most radical, yet it also remains one of his most popular. The play had a memorable off-Broadway revival in the 1980s, directed by John Malkovich, a co-production of Circle Rep and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
In addition to writing plays, Wilson wrote the texts for several 20th century operas, including at least two collaborations with composer Lee Hoiby: Summer and Smoke (1971) and This is the Rill Speaking (1992) (based on his own play). Wilson died March 23rd, 2011.