Lanford Wilson Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

To what extent do you think it is accurate to identify Lanford Wilson as a regional playwright?

Discuss the uses that Wilson makes of ancestry and family cohesion in his writing.

Do you find any pervasive and recurring symbols in Wilson’s writing? If so, how does he use them?

Discuss the father/son, mother/son relationships in Wilson’s work and consider what they reveal about family structure.

Consider Wilson’s commentaries on contemporary society. Identify and discuss three or four of his major social concerns.

Quest is a major element in most drama. In Wilson’s writing, what are some of the quests that motivate the characters?

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Besides stage plays, Lanford Wilson has written works in a number of other dramatic forms: several teleplays, The Migrants (1973, with Tennessee Williams), Sam Found Out: A Triple Play (1988), and Taxi! (1978, not to be confused with the television series Taxi); two unproduced screenplays, “One Arm,” written in 1969 and based on a Williams story, and “The Strike,” based on the book Last Exit to Brooklyn (1988), by Hubert Selby, Jr.; and the libretto for Lee Hoiby’s opera Summer and Smoke (1971), adapted from the Williams play.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Lanford Wilson’s plays have been produced throughout the United States and abroad; several have appeared on television, and The Hot l Baltimore was adapted as a television series. Wilson is the winner of numerous awards: a Vernon Rice Award (1967); Obies for The Hot l Baltimore, The Mound Builders, and Sympathetic Magic; a Pulitzer Prize and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award (as best-of-best) for Talley’s Folly; the American Theater Critics Award for best play for Book of Days; the Brandeis University Creative Arts Award, and fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim foundations. He was admitted to the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1995, and the Missouri Writers Hall of Fame in 1997.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Barnett, Gene A. Lanford Wilson. Boston: Twayne, 1987. The most valuable general study of Wilson. This book carries chapters on all the major plays through Talley and Son. It also includes a family genealogy and a family chronology for the entire Talley clan.

Bode, Walter. “Lanford Wilson.” In Contemporary Dramatists, edited by D. L. Kirkpatrick. 4th ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1988. Bode’s brief article contains a complete primary bibliography through Burn This. The analysis that follows discusses Wilson’s work as it relates to the conflict between the traditional values of the past and the “insidious pressures of modern life.”

Bryer, Jackson R. Lanford Wilson: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1994. This collection includes ten critical articles, covering plays through Burn This. Also includes an introduction and chronology, and two interviews with Wilson.

Busby, Mark. Lanford Wilson. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1987. Busby’s brief monograph focuses on how Wilson’s own family history influenced his dramatic themes of longing for the past and conflict between generations. Literary influences, including Franz Kafka, and the influence of Wilson’s early theater-going experiences, are also explored.

Dean, Anne M. Discovery and Invention: The Urban Plays of Lanford Wilson. Rutherford, Md.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995. Written with the cooperation of Wilson, Marshall Mason, and other members of the Circle Repertory Company, this passionately affirming book examines Wilson’s themes and the use of realistic yet poetic language, particularly in Balm in Gilead, Hot l Baltimore, and Burn This.

Herman, William. “Down and Out in Lebanon and New York: Lanford Wilson.” In Understanding Contemporary American Drama. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987. Herman’s chapter includes explications of Wilson’s major plays. He praises Wilson for the “delicate poetic language at the heart of his style” and for his “epic encompassment of American experience and mythologies.”

Robertson, C. Warren. “Lanford Wilson.” In American Playwrights Since 1945, edited by Philip C. Kolin. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989. An accessible reference to primary and secondary sources through 1987. Robertson provides a complete primary bibliography of Wilson’s works and brief discussions entitled “Assessment of Wilson’s Reputation” and “Production History.” The article also includes an informative survey of secondary sources and a complete secondary bibliography.