John Guare 1938–
American dramatist and scriptwriter.
Guare writes ironically humorous plays dealing with domestic relationships and the effects on humanity of social, political, and religious crises. Placed in unpleasant situations or environments, Guare's characters, particularly Jack Argue in Muzeeka (1968), the policeman in Cop-out (1969), Artie in The House of Blue Leaves (1971), and the son in Bosoms and Neglect (1979), display negative aspects of human nature. Throughout most of his works, Guare suggests an impossibility for deep human understanding and implies that this natural weakness is aggravated by the constrictions of church, state, and class.
Guare has often been compared to the playwrights who make up the Theater of the Absurd. Linking Guare with this movement are his use of exaggeration, shock, ludicrousness, and black humor. For example, Brillo pads replace hamburgers; a hymn to America is sung during a striptease; and there is a grotesquely comical description of the effects of cancer. Many critics contend that Guare's absurdist techniques are effectively ironic or shocking as separate pieces, but are insufficiently related to each other or to the overall point of specific works.
Guare's recent plays, Lydie Breeze (1982) and Gardenia (1982), portray different periods in the relationships among the members of a commune established after the American Civil War. In these plays the spread of syphilis among the members is used as a metaphor for the decline of American spirituality. Guare has been faulted in these plays for relying too heavily on literary references, especially to the plays of Henrik Ibsen, and for confusing his audience by introducing too many dissimilar themes. However, his use of a historical setting is highly lauded for its potential to convey the differences between past and present hopes and realities.
Guare drew his greatest critical attention early in his career, winning an Obie for Muzeeka, an Obie and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the best American play of 1970–1971 for The House of Blue Leaves, and two Tonys and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for his musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona (1973). Although critical acclaim of Guare's later plays has rarely equaled that of his first successes, his work continues to draw attention for its commentary on American life and interpersonal behavior. Guare received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for the film Atlantic City (1981).
(See also CLC, Vols. 8, 14; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 7.)