Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 716
John Guare was born in Manhattan on February 5, 1938, to John Edward and Helen Clare (Grady) Guare. Shortly after his birth, his parents moved to Forest Hills, Queens, where he attended St. Joan of Arc Parochial School and, when old enough, was taken to mass every day by his mother.
Guare’s father worked on Wall Street and had in earlier years been employed as office boy for George M. Cohan. Guare speaks of his very bright and unhappy parents, of listening to constant arguments between them and of hearing stories about his Hollywood uncle, Billy Grady. He heard stories about his uncle’s having secretly signed Elizabeth Taylor to star in National Velvet (1944) and about Grady’s managing the careers of Ruby Keeler, W. C. Fields, and Will Rogers. Exposed early to religion and Hollywood, he learned from direct experience about “Catholicism and show biz,” which he referred to as “full of dreams and phoney promises.”
Guare graduated from Georgetown University in 1961 and went on to receive his M.A. in English at Yale University in 1963. He was a fellow at Yale’s Saybrook College from 1977 to 1978 and adjunct professor from 1977 to 1981. He lectured, as well, at New York University and City College of New York.
His serious interest in the theater emerged following a series of experiences that included service with the Air Force Reserve, a job with a London publisher, and extensive hitchhiking through Europe that concluded in Cairo, Egypt. While in the service, he stopped going to Mass. In Rome, he read newspaper accounts of the pope’s impending visit to New York in 1965, and in Cairo, he received a letter from his parents about the pope’s ride through Queens on his way to speak at the United Nations. The letter pushed into perspective the events of his own life in a Joycean epiphany. He fell to imagining his mother’s reaction to the visit and “was suddenly intensely in touch with myself and my past.” He returned to New York in July of 1966, having written act 1 of his first New York success, The House of Blue Leaves (1971). In its completed form, the play is crowded with images of his life up to 1965.
Unable to finish the play because of the death of his father shortly after his return, he did accede to having the first act staged at the O’Neill Playhouse in Connecticut. He became active in the protests against the Vietnam War and was once knocked unconscious by a kick from a policeman’s horse. Troubled by the fact that there were decent people on both sides of the protests, Guare once more left for Europe, where he finished The House of Blue Leaves, returning home in 1970 to enjoy its production at the Off-Broadway Truck and Warehouse Theater in New York in 1971. The play was then successfully revived in 1986 at the prestigious Lincoln Center Vivian Beaumont Theater, which soon became Guare’s stage home in New York. His other two major plays, Six Degrees of Separation (1990) and Four Baboons Adoring the Sun (1992), were produced there as well.
His lesser plays include Muzeeka (1967), the musical Two Gentlemen of Verona, for which he wrote the lyrics (1971), Marco Polo Sings a Solo (1973), Rich and Famous (1974), Landscape of the Body (1977), Bosoms and Neglect (1979), Women and Water (1984), and Moon Over Miami (1988). He has, as well, joined with playwrights Amlin Gray, Romulus Linney, Jean-Claude van Itallie, Edward Albee, and Christopher Durang, each writing a segment of Faustus in Hell (1985) and with seven writers, among them David Mamet and Wendy Wasserstein, in adapting stories from Anton Chekhov in a production titled Orchards (1987).
Guare served as playwright-in-residence at the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater in 1976 and 1977; his other activities include coeditorship of the Lincoln Center New Theater Review. He has received many honors for his plays, including a Tony Award, two Obie Awards, two New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, and an Award of Merit from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. For his screenwriting, he has been honored with the New York, Los Angeles, and National Film Critics Circle Awards. A fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities and a member of the council of the Dramatists Guild, Guare lives in New York with his wife, the former Adele Chatfield-Taylor.