Wilson, Lanford (Vol. 197)
Lanford Wilson 1937-
The following entry provides an overview of Wilson's career through 2003. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 7, 14, and 36.
A prolific writer of experimental and traditional drama, Wilson launched his career at the avant-garde Caffe Cino during the off-off-Broadway movement of the 1960s. He later co-founded the renowned Circle Repertory Company, for which he wrote many of his major works, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Talley's Folly (1979). Through his dynamic characters, many of whom are misfits of low social class, Wilson has explored issues of alienation, solitude, and disillusionment. His plays address themes of family conflict, gender roles and expectations, sexual identity, and the changing social landscape of America. He has been widely regarded for the authenticity and poetic rhythm of his dialogue. Wilson's style, frequently compared to those of Anton Chekhov and Tennessee Williams, is categorized as lyrical realism but frequently employs such nonrealistic devices as monologue, symbolic characters, and direct address of the audience. Wilson has enjoyed success both on and off Broadway and his works are among the most regularly produced plays in regional, college, and community theaters. Wilson remains an important voice in American playwriting, as evidenced by numerous revival productions of his plays, including Balm in Gilead, Burn This, and 5th of July, which were first produced in 1965, 1987, and 1978, respectively.
Wilson was born on April 13, 1937, in the town of Lebanon, Missouri, a setting the author often revisited in his works. When he was five years old, Wilson's parents divorced and his father moved to California. After transferring from Southwest Missouri State University to San Diego State University in 1955, Wilson was briefly reunited with his father, an event which provided inspiration for the highly autobiographical play Lemon Sky (1968). Wilson relocated to Chicago in 1956, where he began writing one-act dramas; in 1962, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in playwriting. In 1963, Caffe Cino produced Wilson's one-act So Long at the Fair, propelling Wilson into a period of intense creativity. He wrote at a frenetic pace throughout the 1960s, with most of his work premiering at Caffe Cino and other off-off-Broadway venues. Wilson's most important early plays were the full-length pieces Balm in Gilead and The Rimers of Eldritch (1966). After the suicide of Caffe Cino's producer, Joe Cino, Wilson began to utilize regional theater as a means to produce his work. In 1969, Wilson co-founded the Circle Repertory Company in Greenwich Village. He was the group's playwright-in-residence until it disbanded in 1996. With the Circle Repertory Company, Wilson produced many of his most critically and commercially successful plays: Serenading Louie (1970), The Hot l Baltimore (1973), and The Mound Builders (1975). Wilson introduced his Talley cycle—three plays about a Midwestern family set in Wilson's birthplace—with 1978's 5th of July, followed by Talley's Folley in 1979, and A Tale Told, later revised as Talley & Son, in 1981. In 1987, Wilson penned three plays in rapid succession, including the acclaimed Burn This. Wilson has continued to produce plays throughout the 1990s and into the twenty-first century.
Balm in Gilead, Wilson's first full-length play, is a documentary-like piece depicting the lives of drug addicts, dealers, pimps, prostitutes, drag queens, and hustlers—the denizens of an all-night diner in New York City. In 1966, Wilson premiered his second full-length work, The Rimers of Eldritch, which opened at Cafe La Mama and moved off-Broadway later that year. The Rimers of Eldritch champions outcast characters and is set in a narrow-minded Midwestern town. Lemon Sky is perhaps Wilson's most personal play, a memory piece set in San Diego about a teenage boy's attempt to reconcile with his estranged father. A major critical and commercial success, The Hot l Baltimore is a lament for the past and an affirmation of humanity's ability to endure, as destitute inhabitants of a once-grandiose hotel await its demolition. In The Mound Builders, Wilson focuses on an idealistic past and the detrimental effects of modern progress. The Mound Builders centers on a team of archaeologists attempting to protect their discovery of an ancient Native American civilization from land development. 5th of July introduces the characters Ken Talley, Jr., who is a paraplegic Vietnam veteran, his homosexual lover, and his Aunt Sally. When faced with the decision of whether to sell the family home, Ken elects not to sell, affirming values of family and tradition. A younger Aunt Sally appears in Wilson's Talley's Folly, the story of Sally Talley's forbidden courtship and elopement with Matt Friedman, a Jewish accountant. A Tale Told, the third and final installment in the Talley cycle, is set on July 4, 1944, the same night as Talley's Folly, and presents additional members of the Talley clan who decide to sell the family garment business to a conglomerate. In Burn This, Wilson touches on the theme of intimacy in the face of grief, exploring human sexuality and love through the characters of Anna, who is a dancer, and Pale, the incendiary brother of Anna's recently deceased roommate. Returning to earlier themes and subject matter, Wilson examined small-town hypocrisy and the search for community in Book of Days (1998). In Rain Dance (2000), set in 1945 in New Mexico, the birth of the atomic age brings together an American scientist, a Native American, and two German immigrants, each of whom has contributed in some way to the development of the atom bomb.
Wilson has been acclaimed by critics, actors, and audiences alike. Scholars have praised his inventive use of dialogue, and from his earliest works, reviewers have consistently noted Wilson's skill with language. Reflecting on Balm in Gilead, critic Anne M. Dean stated: “For all the play's visual brilliance, for me its greatest strength resides in its manipulation of language.” Wilson has been lauded for his ability to transform everyday vernacular into poetry. Commentators have observed his adept characterizations, particularly marking his compassionate depiction of society's outcasts. Wilson's talent for developing dynamic, intriguing characters has earned him a reputation as an “actor's playwright.” Audiences have admired Wilson's accessible, realistic style and tender characters, making him one of the most commercially successful playwrights of his time. Wilson has been honored with numerous awards for his craft, including the Vernon Rice Award, the Obie, and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. However, critical praise of Wilson's work is not unanimous; some reviewers have bemoaned his writing as sentimental, overly conventional, and pretentious. Despite these charges, critics have widely considered Wilson an important contributor to American theater.
So Long at the Fair (play) 1963
Home Free! (play) 1964
The Madness of Lady Bright (play) 1964
No Trespassing (play) 1964
Balm in Gilead (play) 1965
Days Ahead (play) 1965
Ludlow Fair (play) 1965
The Sand Castle (play) 1965
Sex Is Between Two People (play) 1965
This Is the Rill Speaking (play) 1965
The Rimers of Eldritch (play) 1966
Wandering: A Turn (play) 1966
Miss Williams: A Turn (play) 1967
The Gingham Dog (play) 1968
Lemon Sky (play) 1968
One Arm [adaptor; from Tennessee Williams's short story] (screenplay) 1970
Serenading Louie (play) 1970
The Great Nebula in Orion (play) 1971
Sextet (Yes): A Play for Voices (play) 1971
Summer and Smoke [adaptor; from Tennessee Williams's play] (libretto) 1971
The Family Continues (play) 1972
Ikke, Ikke, Nye, Nye, Nye (play) 1972
The Hot l Baltimore (play) 1973
The Migrants [with Tennessee Williams] (screenplay) 1973
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SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Stanley Kauffmann on Theater.” New Republic 162, no. 2894 (13 June 1970): 18, 31.
[In the following excerpt, Kauffmann provides a somewhat unfavorable assessment of Lemon Sky, contending that it “accomplishes little.”]
Three new off-Broadway productions [Colette, by Ellen Stewart; Lemon Sky, by Lanford Wilson; and The Me Nobody Knows, by Orpheum] underline a familiar truth: American performing is better than American writing. …
Christopher Walken [in Lemon Sky,] is a talented young actor at the other end of the spectrum from Miss Caldwell [cast as the title character in Colette] He doesn't have her technical virtuosity, and he has ambitions only towards realistic acting, even in the Shakespeare of his that I've seen. But, besides stage ease and easy charm, he has an unusual conviction of quintessence. In Lemon Sky he plays a late teenager (as well as the boy's older self), and we know at once that the core of that boy has come on stage in Walken.
Walken has an extrinsic nuisance in his life, a physical resemblance to Jon Voight, of Midnight Cowboy, another gifted actor. One distinction between them, however, is that Walken has a greater feminine quality (not to be confused with effeminacy), which I find attractive in men. And he has the strength for encompassment....
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SOURCE: Wilson, Lanford, and Esther Harriott. “Interview with Lanford Wilson.” In American Voices: Five Contemporary Playwrights in Essays and Interviews, pp. 36-58. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 1988.
[In the following interview, originally conducted in December 1982, Wilson discusses his penchant for developing complex characters.]
I met with Lanford Wilson in December 1982 at the offices of the Circle Repertory Theater in New York. Wilson was a co-founder of the theater in 1969 and has been a resident playwright there ever since. Every room was in bustling use, and Wilson suggested that we walk to a café in the neighborhood.
Thin and handsome and dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and a black leather jacket, Wilson looked much younger than his 46 years. He was tired, and at the beginning of the interview when I asked questions about his affiliation with Circle Rep—questions that he has apparently been asked many times—he was politely impatient. But when we began to talk about his plays, he warmed to the conversation. He is seldom asked to discuss his work seriously, he said afterwards. Wilson is a shy but animated talker who, appropriately for a playwright, often frames his answers in anecdotes composed of dialogue. Sipping wine at our minuscule table, he talked volubly and with charm until my three hours' worth of tapes ran out.
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SOURCE: Kane, Leslie. “The Agony of Isolation in the Drama of Anton Chekhov and Lanford Wilson.” Philological Papers 31 (1985-86): 20-6.
[In the following essay, Kane compares Wilson to Anton Chekhov in terms of their preference for realism in their works and their characterizations of solitude.]
In contemporary drama we have become accustomed to the drifter, the loner, the single—a character who is emotionally detached from others and who quests, usually with little success, for connections. This problem of isolation is not a new one, nor is it a peculiarly contemporary one. The agony of isolation and the efforts of characters to mitigate that agony received empathetic treatment in the drama of Anton Chekhov. More than any other dramatist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Chekhov was cognizant of ontological solitude. He knew, suggests Robert Corrigan, that “each man is alone and that he seeks to maintain his solitude,” but “he also knew that for each man solitude is unbearable.”1 Chekhov's experimentation with dramatic form, content, and linguistic methodology is a function of his intention to convey realistically the struggle of his characters to maintain privacy and the need for his characters to share their pain. In the twentieth century numerous dramatists, particularly J. J. Bernard, Beckett, Ionesco, and Pinter, have focused upon existential loneliness...
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SOURCE: Wilson, Lanford, and David Savran. “Lanford Wilson.” In In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights, pp. 306-20. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988.
[In the following interview, originally conducted December 1, 1986, Wilson discusses his early theatrical experiences, influences, and writing style.]
Born in Lebanon, Missouri, in 1937, Lanford Wilson was five when his parents divorced. His father moved to California (he wasn't to see him again for thirteen years) and he lived with his mother in a succession of rented houses before going to Chicago in 1956. There he took several jobs and finally moved to New York to become a playwright. Working at the Caffe Cino, Wilson quickly became one of the most active figures in the Off-Off Broadway movement of the mid-sixties. There, in 1964, he enjoyed his first major success with The Madness of Lady Bright. This was followed by a succession of full-length plays, most directed by his longtime associate Marshall Mason, including Balm in Gilead (1965), The Gingham Dog (1966) and The Rimers of Eldritch (1967). In 1968 he cofounded Circle Repertory Company, which since has premiered most of his work. His later plays include Lemon Sky (1970), The Hot l Baltimore (1973), The Mound Builders (1975), Serenading Louie (1976), Angels Fall (1982), Burn This (1986) and the...
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SOURCE: Busby, Mark. “Lanford Wilson.” In Lanford Wilson, edited by Wayne Chatterton and James H. Maguire, pp. 5-52. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1987.
[In the following essay, Busby discusses Wilson's Midwestern roots as inspiration for his plays.]
Vincent, the main character in Lanford Wilson's first Broadway play, The Gingham Dog, explains that he left his small Kentucky town for New York because he was “sick of small people—ambitions—hopes—small hopelessness,” and he thought that New Yorkers “could comprehend something outside themselves, respond.” It was perhaps a similar attraction that brought Lanford Wilson from a small farm near Ozark, Missouri, to the bright lights of the Great White Way, but just as Vincent eventually discovers, Wilson learned that continuing connections with one's region remain. He also knows that coming home is not always wrapped in comfortable nostalgia. Nonetheless, some of Lanford Wilson's greatest successes as a playwright have come when he husbanded his Midwestern roots as the subjects for his plays.
Wilson was born to Ralph Eugene and Violette Careybelle (Tate) Wilson on 13 April 1937 in Lebanon, Missouri, a small town in south central Missouri at the edge of the Mark Twain National Forest. When he was five, his parents divorced, and he and his mother moved to Springfield, where she got a job in a garment factory....
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SOURCE: Hornby, Richard. “The Decline of the American Musical Comedy.” Hudson Review 41, no. 1 (spring 1988): 182-88.
[In the following excerpt, Hornby discusses Burn This and compares Wilson with other contemporary playwrights.]
Lanford Wilson's Burn This concerns three young people—two dancers and a copywriter—who share a Soho loft. The male dancer, a homosexual, has just died in a boating accident, and it becomes clear, in their grief, that the two remaining roommates were in love with him. The female dancer has a boyfriend, a successful screenwriter, whom she likes but does not really love; when the dead roommate's brother arrives, a bizarre, drunk, long-haired, foul-mouthed individual, she falls into a passionate affair with him, despite their obvious differences in temperament and basic dislike for each other. In the end, the woman's remaining roommate (the advertising writer) has moved out, leaving a scornful note ending with the words, “Burn this”; her ex-boyfriend has gone to Hollywood; her new lover has lost his job as maitre d'hôtel in a New Jersey restaurant and separated from his wife and family; and the two mismatched sweethearts are left alone with each other in dismay and despair.
Burn This displays the narrowness of scope and looseness of structure so typical of realistic American playwriting today. What elevates Wilson above similar...
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SOURCE: Erben, Rudolf. “The Western Holdup Play: The Pilgrimage Continues.” Western American Literature 23, no. 4 (February 1989): 311-22.
[In the following excerpt, Erben characterizes Wilson's Angels Fall as a comment on the modern American West.]
With The Petrified Forest (1935), Robert E. Sherwood introduced to America a new dramatic genre, which we can call the western holdup play. Sherwood's play and the holdup formula have subsequently become the model for such significant western American plays as William Inge's Bus Stop (1955), Mark Medoff's When You Comin Back, Red Ryder? (1973), Lanford Wilson's Angels Fall (1982), and Marsha Norman's The Holdup (1983).
Structurally, the western holdup play builds on an old dramatic convention, known by such diverse names as the “lifeboat” or the “snow-bound” genre. Though obviously contrived and conducive more to thought and talk than action and plot, the formula ensures dramatic unity and brings together characters who would not otherwise have met. Imprisoned by forces beyond their control, strangers start questioning themselves and one another under the pressure of confinement. When they are finally released, they have not only gained existential insights, but their lives are changed.
Despite shared characteristics with the older models, the five plays I selected...
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SOURCE: Callens, Johan. “When ‘The Center Cannot Hold’ or the Problem of Mediation in Lanford Wilson's The Mound Builders.” In New Essays on American Drama, edited by Gilbert Debusscher and Henry I. Schvey, pp. 201-26. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1989.
[In the following essay, Callens cites Wilson's The Mound Builders as an “existentialist inspired portrait of contemporary life.”]
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
(W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”)
The Mound Builders, was first produced by New York's Circle Repertory Company on February 2, 1975, under the guidance of Marshall W. Mason, Lanford Wilson's usual director. It could have been the simple story of how “The signing of an energy bill in Washington transforms rural areas into resorts.” But important archeological discoveries determined it otherwise.1 In Wilson's play the decision to build the Blue Shoals Dam in Southern Illinois indeed interferes with the excavation of remnants from the Early Mississippian Culture. The ensuing complications are enough to expand a commonplace idea—based on the true though partial destruction of the historical site of Cahokia by...
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SOURCE: Edwards, Christopher. “Pale and Interesting.” Spectator 264, no. 8448 (9 June 1990): 46.
[In the following excerpt, Edwards provides a favorable assessment of Burn This, specifically hailing the performance of John Malkovich as Pale.]
Theatre is a corrupt art. At any rate, live performance is a means by which flawed writing can be redeemed. Nothing new about that idea, of course, but you are forcefully reminded of it in the present production of Lanford Wilson's Burn This at the Hampstead Theatre. Anna (Juliet Stevenson) is a New York dancer whose brilliant gay dancing partner has just died. Anna and her other gay flatmate Larry (Lou Liberatore) are mourning their friend when his shaggy-maned doped-up brother Pale bursts into the apartment. Pale is anything but what his name suggests. As played by John Malkovich, this must be the most highly charged performance in London. Ferociously railing against motorists, New York, all of modern city life, he takes the stage by storm in an extraordinary antic display of great emotional and physical energy. Lurching violently around one second, he is feline the next, first smashing the walls and furniture, then sobbing his heart out. As for the emotionally closed-up Anna, she is repelled one minute, the next she is in bed with him.
It is that kind of play. Much of the writing is sentimental and the ending is slushy. Anna's...
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SOURCE: Wilson, Lanford, and John C. Tibbetts. “An Interview with Lanford Wilson.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 5, no. 2 (spring 1991): 175-80.
[In the following interview, Wilson discusses his early life, writing process, and career with the Circle Repertory Company.]
At the beginning of Lanford Wilson's Lemon Sky, the character of Alan comes downstage out of the darkness. “I've been trying to tell this story, to get it down, for a long time,” he says to the audience, “—for a number of years, seven years at least—closer to ten.” Alan's lament is the playwright's dilemma. He explains that the story has been told dozens of times to friends, each time with different starts and different endings. He adds that the characters often disrupt matters and go off on their own, wilfully, sometimes destructively. “They wouldn't have any part of what I wanted them to say. They sat down to coffee or some damn thing.”
For thirty-four years, ever since Lanford Wilson's arrival in New York City in 1956 at the age of nineteen, he has fought and wrestled that stubborn, sometimes pliant, sometimes recalcitrant raw material of theatrical stuff. Now one of America's most successful and respected playwrights, he is turning his energies increasingly to that kind of theatrical trench warfare known as the “staged reading.” He is in Kansas City at the moment visiting the...
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SOURCE: Wilson, Lanford, and Jackson R. Bryer. “Lanford Wilson.” In The Playwright's Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Dramatists, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 277-96. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995.
[In the following interview, originally conducted on May 20, 1993, Wilson and Bryer discuss the craft of playwriting, critical reaction to Wilson's work, and his literary influences.]
Lanford Wilson was born in 1937 in Lebanon, Missouri. After attending Southwest Missouri State College briefly and spending a year in San Diego and five years in Chicago, he came to New York in 1962. His initial plays, one-acts, were presented at the off-off-Broadway Caffe Cino. His first full-length play was Balm in Gilead (1965). It was followed by The Rimers of Eldritch (1966), The Gingham Dog (1968), Serenading Louie (1970), Lemon Sky (1970), The Hot l Baltimore (1973), The Mound Builders (1975), 5th of July, (1978; revised as Fifth of July ), Talley's Folly (1979), A Tale Told (1981; revised as Talley & Son ), Angels Fall (1982), Burn This (1986), Redwood Curtain (1992), and numerous one-acts. The Rimers of Eldritch received the Drama Desk Vernon Rice Award; The Hot l Baltimore received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Obie Award, and the...
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SOURCE: Williams, Philip Middleton. “Talley's Folly: The ‘Virtually Perfect’ Play,” and “A Tale Told and Talley & Son: The Last of the Talleys?” In A Comfortable House: Lanford Wilson, Marshall W. Mason and the Circle Repertory Theatre, pp. 73-103. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 1993.
[In the following essay, Williams explores the origin and development of the second and third Talley plays: Talley's Folly and A Tale Told (revised as Talley & Son.)]
In a sense, Marshall W. Mason was responsible for Talley's Folly. It was his rehearsal technique of improvisation and character exploration that led Lanford Wilson to create the tale of the wooing of young Sally Talley by her suitor, Matt Friedman.
When the work [5th of July] was in rehearsal, in order to help Helen Stenborg play her role as the widowed Sally Talley Friedman, he made up a biography for her deceased husband, Matt, “a history for her to draw on.” As he created that history, it began to grow into a play. In his mind the character of Matt took the shape of the actor Judd Hirsch, who has been a hotel clerk in Hot l Baltimore. The author told Stenborg that, if she wanted to, she could think of Hirsch as her dead husband. It was Hirsch's ashes that she carried back home to Lebanon. As Wilson remembers, “When Judd...
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SOURCE: Dean, Anne M. “Balm in Gilead” and “Burn This.” In Discovery and Invention: The Urban Plays of Lanford Wilson, pp. 61-79, 94-122. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Dean asserts that Balm in Gilead displays Wilson's talent for poetic dialogue and that Burn This is one of his most important works.]
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear—
—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Balm in Gilead is the earliest and perhaps most disconcerting of Wilson's urban plays. Like his other works set in a city, this drama is both ambitious and brave, seeking to cover a wide range of issues by means of unconventional, even alienating, effects. It is at once a fairly realistic chronicle of life as lived by a particular section of the New York underclass at a specific period in history and a dynamic and intensely theatrical celebration of the poetry of the streets. It deals not only with the many betrayals, disappointments, and hardships that characterize the life of its protagonists, but also with their hopes, dreams, and small victories.
The play is a coruscating, yet strangely moving evocation of a socially disadvantaged corner of New York. To become involved in its dissipated milieu is to share its fears and elations to an uncomfortable degree. Although...
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SOURCE: Martine, James J. “Charlotte's Daughters: Changing Gender Roles and Family Structures in Lanford Wilson.” In Lanford Wilson: A Casebook, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 37-63. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.
[In the following essay, Martine investigates the evolving role of women in Wilson's plays.]
There is no inconsistency in the fact that serious and important writers can be placed in a literary tradition while the contribution of their artistic originality is applauded. It is possible to appreciate Lanford Wilson's literary affinity to Luigi Pirandello, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller in matters of form; his relation thematically to William Faulkner and John Steinbeck as a confirmed humanist; an added indebtedness to Williams; and acknowledge concerns leading eventually back to Henrik Ibsen.
Audiences of several of Wilson's plays recognize, for example, the influence of the more celebrated playwrights in his use of the engaged narrator—some more engaged, or engaging, than others: Alan in Lemon Sky; Matt Friedman of Talley's Folly; and Timmy Talley in Talley & Son who is a synthesis of both the Stage Manager and Emily from Our Town (1938) which was on stage when Wilson was one year old. An examination of the autobiographical aspects of Lemon Sky, and perhaps other Wilson plays, must await another and...
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SOURCE: Isherwood, Charles. Review of Fifth of July, by Lanford Wilson. Variety (10-16 February 2003): 44.
[In the following review, Isherwood finds Fifth of July timeless.]
Written first, Fifth of July is chronologically the last in Wilson's trilogy of major plays about Missouri's Talley family. The first act takes place on the evening of Independence Day in 1977, the second the morning after.
The timing—and title—are suggestively symbolic: They hint at the play's understated ambitions as an exploration of the collective emotional hangover that followed the ebullient hopefulness of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Through the dislocated lives of its characters, Wilson is examining the state of the American psyche in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. But there is nothing polemical about the writing—Wilson simply weaves these themes naturally into the nubby fabric of the writing.
It's all the more effective for that subtlety, and for the loose nature of its dramatic construction. Wilson, who began writing plays in the 1960s, when theatrical traditions were being decimated along with many another cultural strictures, allows the play to take its own organic shape.
He imposes no confining structure on it, allowing his characters to talk their way into all sorts of odd corners (that much-discussed folk tale about...
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SOURCE: Montez, Ricardo. Review of Burn This, by Lanford Wilson. Theatre Journal 55, no. 2 (3 May 2003): 358-59.
[In the following review of Burn This, Montez explores the theme of intimacy and its relevance in a New York City setting, post-September 11, 2001.]
Burn This ends with the play's two main characters, Anna and Pale, holding each other in an embrace full of uncertainty and grief. In the first of the Signature Theatre's productions devoted to Lanford Wilson over the 2002-2003 season, the pair, played by Catherine Keener and Edward Norton, close the play with a look towards an empty bed hovering in a loft above Anna's bedroom. This unoccupied space manages to assert an overwhelming presence throughout the production. Once belonging to Robbie—Anna's friend and Pale's brother—the bed acts as a continual reminder of absence and haunts the interactions that occur within the larger setting of the play. Pale and Anna's developing intimacies do not so much ring as a union of two people hopelessly in love as they do of a kind of grasping to fill a loss that remains wholly unprocessed. The overarching grief of the production is fueled by a stifling wash of silences and denials whose visibility is precipitated in those moments where Anna must confront familial relations from Robbie's past.
When the play opens, Anna has recently returned from a wake for Robbie....
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Barnett, Gene A. “Recreating the Magic: An Interview with Lanford Wilson.” Ball State University Forum 25 (spring 1984): 57-74.
Focuses on Wilson's writing style and creative process.
———. Lanford Wilson. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987, 170 p.
Provides extensive discussion of Wilson's life and works.
Brustein, Robert. “Post-Naturalist Triumph.” New Republic, no. 3642 (5 November 1984): 27-9.
Lauds a revival of Balm in Gilead, directed by John Malkovich, as “a stylistic triumph.”
Cooperman, Robert. “The Talley Plays and the Evolution of the American Family.” In Lanford Wilson: A Casebook, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 65-84. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.
Describes Wilson's Talley trilogy as “a history of family life in modern America.”
Gussow, Mel. “Three Lanford Wilson Plays Given Uptown.” New York Times (22 May 1972): 43.
Provides discussion of The Great Nebula in Orion, Ikke, Ikke, Nye, Nye, Nye, and The Family Continues.
Kauffmann, Stanley. “Two American Plays.” New Republic 172, no. 9 (1 March 1975): 22, 33.
Maintains that despite its faults, The Mound Builders is well-grounded...
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