A. R. Gurney, Jr. Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

A. R. Gurney, Jr., has written for television and film as well as for the stage; in addition, he has published the novels The Gospel According to Joe (1974), Entertaining Strangers (1977), and The Snow Ball (1984).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

A. J. Gurney, Jr., is often labeled the dramatist of the WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) enclave. He laughs at, ridicules, even satirizes WASPs but at the same time understands them and in some ways sympathizes with them. Being born and reared a WASP, he knows his material. His characters live and breathe. They vividly represent a passing culture. Their motivations are clearly depicted, along with their frustrations and emotional tensions. Never really damnable, they are bored, fenced in, and stifled. They crave freedom and self-realization. Gurney’s mastery of concise form reflects his classical bent. His plays are brief and to the point. They exemplify glories of artistic structure similar to those of the sonnet or sonata form. No excesses mar their impact. They abound with thrilling resonance of offstage events.

Gurney is in like manner a master of dramatic dialogue. The clichés and literary reflections of his characters are consonant with their status and emotions. Like Henrik Ibsen’s plays, Gurney’s are well wrought. Stage settings, props, and costumes are carefully detailed. Following in the tradition of such American innovators of drama as Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee, Gurney loosens space, opening up the stage. Hamlet-like, his characters address the audience, who at times even become participants in the play. The rueful humor of Gurney’s highly polished, smoothly crafted plays makes for...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Barnes, Clive. “Wasps, No Sting.” New York Post, May 6, 1991. The Playwrights Horizons, a tryout house for much good work in New York, presented The Old Boy, to the disdain of Barnes: “The whole cast goes flat out but the play, for all its evident demonstration of skills, just goes flat.” Good synopsis, however, of the play’s themes and plot.

DiGaetani, John L. A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. In this valuable resource, Gurney offers his observations about his life, plays, and writing process.

Gurney, A. R. “Here’s to Playwright A. R. Gurney.” Interview by Daryl H. Miller. L.A. Daily News, April 13, 1990. The Canon Theatre’s production of Love Letters coincided with previews of The Cocktail Hour at the Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood. This biographical interview brings both plays, and Gurney’s successful The Dining Room, into perspective. The Cocktail Hour “examines the differences between the new and the old WASP,” Gurney remarks.

Rizzo, Frank. “A Gentle Man, a Civil Man, and Theater’s Favorite Playwright WASP.” Courant (Hartford, Conn.), February 10, 1991. Based on informal interviews during rehearsal breaks for the Hartford Stage Company’s production of The Snow Ball, this piece discusses Gurney’s involvement with the Dramatist Guild’s dispute with the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), examines his WASP image, and reports his screenplay work for Love Letters.

Williams, Albert. “Gurney Cuts Loose—Sort Of.” American Theatre 10, no. 10 (October, 1993): 12. This interview covers Gurney’s play Later Life and his observations on the importance of touching young people through theater.

Winn, Steven. “Letters Notes Change in Star System.” San Francisco Examiner, December 17, 1989. Praising the “deft and graceful script” of Love Letters, Winn describes the performance (here with John Rubinstein and Stockard Channing) as “a beautifully tooled vehicle for pure acting,” unlike the big “ensemble” shows of Broadway, such as Phantom of the Opera and Cats.