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Lanford Wilson

By Edward Albee

In the first eleven years of this new century we have lost, among others, the following American playwrights:

Horton Foote
Jack Gelber
Romulus Linney
Wendy Wasserstein
August Wilson
Doric Wilson
and Lanford Wilson.

Indeed, a debilitating necrology.

History tells us—in its retrospects—that while we give the appearance of our arts being chock full of talents, it is the losses remind us that the wealth is illusory, that the number whose talent survives their passing is always less than we need it to be, to be considered a healthy culture.

I suspect, alas, that the first decade of this century has diminished us more forcefully than chance would have it, and I find it interesting that, of the playwrights I have listed, five of the seven were best, if not exclusively, known as off-Broadway playwrights.

Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter where the talent finds its proper home and, while Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller were the artistic (if not always the commercial) pride of Broadway in their time, since there was no other place for them, I wonder, if there had been a functioning Off-Broadway then, whether O’Neill, Wilder, Williams, and Miller would not have found a more congenial artistic home in the smaller spaces of Off-Broadway and, indeed, Off-Off-Broadway. Surely there the audiences are more culturally literate, the production costs lower, and critics less responsive to the profit motive which often seems to be the only standard of value judgment on Broadway.

No matter—we lose the best and we lose the lesser; and every loss hurts, surely none more than the passing of Lanford Wilson, whose 49 year career of honest, deeply felt play-making held up a standard more difficult to maintain if you were not Lanford Wilson.

Arthur Miller wrote that he judged a play by how “necessary” he felt it was—a valid standard to my mind—and of Lanford’s more than 50 plays (and I saw almost all of them, many more than once) I seldom had an experience I felt was anything other than “necessary.”

Lanford was a good guy, a toiler in the most fertile vineyards, and a playwright whose plays were never what anybody thought they should be but only what they needed to be—that word again—“necessary.”

Pace, Lanford, and thank you.

© 2021 American Academy of Arts and Letters