Wilson, Lanford

Wilson, Lanford, 1937–2011, American playwright, b. Lebanon, Mo. An important figure in modern drama, he was a master of earthy, realistic dialogue in which monologue, conversation, and direct address to the audience overlap. Frequent themes include decay, dissolution, loneliness, and loss, and he addresses such issues as American conformity, family conflicts, and the plight of social outcasts, whom he characterized with empathy and understanding. Wilson, who was gay, also was one of the first playwrights to realistically portray gay and lesbian characters.

Wilson settled in New York City in 1962 and soon became part of the off-off-Broadway movement, producing such one-act plays as So Long at the Fair (1963) and Home Free! (1964). He graduated to off-Broadway with the production of his first full-length play, Balm in Gilead (1964), and moved to Broadway with The Gingham Dog (1968). In 1969 he cofounded the Circle Repertory Theatre in Greenwich Village, where, until its closing (1996), many of his plays were performed. Among these were the extremely successful The Hot l Baltimore (1972) and an acclaimed trilogy—Fifth of July (1978), Talley's Folly (1980; Pulitzer Prize), and A Tale Told (1981)—plays set in Wilson's hometown that span several decades. His later dramas include Angels Fall (1982), Burn This (1987), Redwood Curtain (1993), Book of Days (1998), and Rain Dance (2002).

See G. A. Barnett, Lanford Wilson (1987); M. Busby, Lanford Wilson (1987); P. M. Williams, A Comfortable House: Lanford Wilson, Marshall W. Mason, and the Circle Repertory Theatre (1993); J. R. Bryer, ed., Lanford Wilson: A Casebook (1994); A. Dean, Discovery and Invention: The Urban Plays of Lanford Wilson (1994).

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