I want to give a nod to playwright Lanford Wilson, who passed away March 24. He was one of my guiding lights, especially when I was first trying to write plays. In high school, the playwright I was most familiar with was Neil Simon. What can I say, I did a lot of speech tournaments and used cuttings from his plays. As I got a little older I read Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare and Eugene O’Neill, as we all did. Stuff to admire but I couldn’t imagine writing like any of those folks. But then I discovered Lemon Sky and This is the Rill Speaking and Talley’s Folly and The Fifth of July by Lanford Wilson. Plays filled with people who seemed relatable and real. Plays crafted in a way that seemed that maybe if I put my nose to the grindstone I could emulate them.
Well, I ended up not writing like Lanford Wilson, either, as you can imagine, but he gave me hope and something to shoot for.
I went to see his Burn This at the Taper last Saturday. I can’t say I “grog” the character of Pale nor root for his relationship with Anna, but there were other moments that pulled me in – the pain of being at a funeral where the relatives don’t know or won’t admit the deceased is gay, the push-pull of writing a big, commercial screenplay versus something more human and intimate. So the play wasn’t perfect, but it was still a worthy effort. Thank you, Lanford.
Here are other tributes to him by people who knew him intimately, if you want to see how profoundly he touched others’ lives: