PLAY PRODUCTIONS: So Long at the Fair, New York, Caffe Cino, 25 August 1963; No Trespassing, New York, Caffe Cino, 16January 1964; Home Free! New York, Caffe Cino, 16 January 1964; revised, New York, Caffe Cino, 23 August 1964; The Madness of Lady Bright, New York, Caffe Cino, 19 May 1964; Balm in Gilead, New York, La MaMa Experimental The¬ atre Club, 20 January 1965; Ludlow Fair, New York, Caffe Cino, 1 February 1965; Or Harry Can Dance, New York, The Writer's Stage The¬ atre, 15 March 1965; revised as The Sand Castle; The Sand Castle, Or Harry Can Dance, New York, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, 22 Septem¬ ber 1965; This Is the Rill Speaking, New York, Caffe Cino, 20 July 1965; Miss Williams: A Turn, New York, La MaMa Experimen¬ tal Theatre Club, 3 November 1965; Days Ahead and Sex Is Between Two People, New York, Caffe Cino, 28 December 1965; Wandering, New York, Caffe Cino, 10 April 1966; The Rimers of Eldritch, New York, La MaMa Experimen¬ tal Theatre Club, 13 July 1966; Untitled Play, New York,Judson Poets' Theatre, 26 Janu¬ ary 1968; The Gingham Dog New York, The New Dramatist Com¬ mittee Workshop, 26 February 1968; Sextet (Yes), New York, Circle Repertory Theatre, 9 August 1969; Lemon Sky, Buffalo, N.Y., Buffalo Studio Arena Theatre, 26 March 1970; Serenading Louie, Washington, D.C., Washington The¬ atre Club, 1 April 1970; The Great Nebula in Orion, Manchester, U.K., Stables Theatre Club, 18 February 1971; Summer and Smoke, opera by Lee Hoiby, with libretto by Wilson, adapted from Tennessee Williams's play, £ Lanford Wilson (from the dust jacket for The Rimers of Eldritch & Other Plays, 1967; Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina) St. Paul, Minn., St. Paul Opera Association, 19 June 1971; Ikke, Ikke, Nye, Nye, Nye, New Haven, Conn., Yale Caba¬ ret, 13 January 1972, The Hot I Baltimore, New York, Circle Repertory The¬ atre, 4 February 1972; The Family Continues, New York, Circle Repertory The¬ atre, 21 May 1972; The Mound Builders, New York, Circle Repertory The¬ atre, 2 February 1975; Brontosaurus, New York, Circle Repertory Theatre, 18 October 1977; 5th of July, New York, Circle Repertory Theatre, 18 ' April 1978; Bar Play (Labor Day), Louisville, Ky., Actors Theatre of Louisville, 26 January 1979; Talley's Folly, New York, Circle Repertory Theatre, 18 April 1979; A Tale Told, New York, Circle Repertory Theatre, 3 June 1980; revised as Talley & Son, Saratoga Springs, New York, Little Theatre, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 8July 1985; Victory on Mrs. Dandywine's Island, New York, Circle Rep¬ ertory Lab Theatre, January 1981; Thymus Vulgaris, Los Angeles, Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, 24 October 1981; Angels Fall, Miami, New World Festival, 19June 1982; Breakfast at the Track, as part of a benefit evening, New York, Lucille Lortel Theatre, January 1983; Phila¬ delphia, Harold Prince Theatre, 26 April 1984; Say de Kooning, Southampton, New York, Southampton College, 7 September 1983; La Betrothal, London, Man-in-the-Moon Theatre, 26 September 1986; Burn This, Los Angeles, Mark Taper Forum, 22 January 1987; The Bottle Harp, New York, Sanford Meisner Theatre, 1 December 1987; A Fbster if the Cosmos, New York, Ensemble Studio The¬ atre, 8June 1988; Abstinence, New York, Circle Repertory Theatre, 24 October 1988; The Moonshot Tape, Areata, Cal., Humboldt State Uni¬ versity, 11 August 1990; Redwood Curtain, Seatde, Seattle Repertory, 8 January 1992; Eukiah, Louisville, Ky., Humana Festival of New Ameri¬ can Plays, Actors Theatre of Louisville, 21 March 1992; Tour Everyday Ghost Story, San Francisco, 1995; Day, in By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautful Sea, Sag Har¬ bor, N.Y., Bay Street Theatre, 12 August 1995; Virgil Is Still the Frogboy, Sag Harbor, N.Y., Bay Street Theatre, 19 August 1996; Anton Chekhov, The Three Sisters, translated by Wilson, New York, Criterion Center Stage, 13 February 1997; Sympathetic Magic, New York, Second Stage, 16 April 1997; Book of Days, Chelsea, Mich., Purple Rose Theatre, 10 April 1998; Rain Dance, Chelsea, Mich., Purple Rose Theatre, 19 January 2001; Ghosts by Henrick Ibsen, translated by Wilson, Tucson, Arizona Theatre Company, 11 November 2001. BOOKS: Balm in Gilead, and Other Plays (New York: Hill 8c Wang, 1965); Days Ahead (New York: Farrar, Straus 8c Giroux, 1967); The Madness of Lady Bright (New York: Farrar, Straus 8c Giroux, 1967); This Is the Rill Speaking (New York: Farrar, Straus 8c Gir¬ oux, 1967); Wandering (New York: Farrar, Straus 8c Giroux, 1967); The Rimers of Eldritch (New York: Hill 8c Wang, 1967); Home Free!, The Madness of Lady Bright (London: Methuen, 1968); The Gingham Dog (New York: Hill 8c Wang, 1969); Lemon Sky (New York: Hill & Wang, 1970); The Sand Castle, and Three Other Plays: Wandering, Stoop, Sextet (Yes) (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1970); The Hot I Baltimore: A Play (New York: Hill 8c Wang, 1973); The Great Nebula in Orion and Three Other Plays-Ikke, Ikke, Nye, Nye, Nye, The Family Continues, and Victory on Mrs. Dandywine's Island (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1973); The Mound Builders: A Play (New York: Hill 8c Wang, 1976); Serenading Louie: A Play (New York: Dramatists Play Ser¬ vice, 1976); Brontosaurus (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1978); 5th of July: A Play (New York: Hill 8c Wang, 1978); Talley's Folly (New York: Hill 8c Wang, 1980); Thymus Vulgaris: A One-Act Play (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1982); Angels Fall (New York: Hill 8c Wang, 1983); Talley and Son: A Play in Two Acts (New York: Farrar, Straus 8c Giroux, 1986); La Betrothal: A One-Act Play (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1986); Burn This (New York, Farrar, Straus 8c Giroux, 1987); Abstinence: A Turn (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1989); The Moonshot Tape; and A Fbster of the Cosmos: Two One-Act Plays in Monologue (New York: Dramatists Play Ser¬ vice, 1990); Redwood Curtain: A Play (New York: Farrar, Straus 8c Giroux, 1993); Ludlow Fair and Home Free! (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1993); By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea (New York: Dra¬ matists Play Service, 1996)-comprises Dawn, by Joseph Pintauro; Day, by Wilson; and Dusk, by Terrence McNally; Sympathetic Magic (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1998); A Sense of Place, or, Virgil Is Still the Frogboy: A Play in Two Acts (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1998); A Sense of Place (New York". Dramatists Play Service, 1999); Book of Days: A Play in Two Acts (New York: Grove, 2000); Rain Dance (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 2005). Collections: 21 Short Plays (Lyme, N.H.: Smith 8c Kraus, 1993); Collected Works, volume 1: 1965-1970 (Lyme, N.H.: Smith & Kraus, 1996); Collected Works, volume 2: 1970-1983 (Lyme, N.H.: Smith 8c Kraus, 1998); Collected Works, volume 3: The Talley Trilogy (Lyme, N.H.: Smith & Kraus, 1999). PRODUCED SCRIPTS: This Is the Rill Speaking, televi¬ sion, CBS, 1967; Stoop: A Turn, television, in Foul, New York Television Theatre, 1969; The Migrants, television, with Tennessee Williams, Play¬ house 90, CBS, 1973; The Rimers of Eldritch, television, Theatre in America, PBS, 1974; Hot I Baltimore, television, ABC, 1975; The Mound Builders, television, Theatre in America, PBS, 1976; Taxi, television, Hallmark Hall of Fame, NBC, 1978; 5th of July, television, Showtime and American Play¬ house Co-Production, 1982; Summer and Smoke, television, libretto by Wilson for Lee Hoiby\s opera adapted from Williams's play, Chi¬ cago Opera Theatre, PBS, 1982; Lemon Sky, television, American Playhouse, PBS, 1988; Sam Found Out: A Triple Play, Part 1, television, ABC, 1988; Eukiah, motion picture, Zbabam Productions, 2006. OTHER: Robert Patrick, Robert Patrick's Cheep Theatricks! introduction by Wilson (New York: S. French, 1969); Anton Chekhov, The Three Sisters, translated by Wilson (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1984); Frank Maresca, Roger Ricco, and Lyle Rexer, American Self-Taught: Paintings and Drawings by Outsider Artists, foreword by Wilson (New York: Knopf, 1993); David Kahn and Donna Breed, Scriptwork: A Director's Approach to Mew Play Development, foreword by Wil¬ son (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1995); Henrick Ibsen, Ghosts, translated by Wilson (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 2003). SELECTED PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS- UNCOLLECTED: "Getting Slapped into Next Sun¬ day," Artnews, 92 (1 October 1993): 150; "Creating Art with the Written Word," New York Times, 11 September 1994, p. H64; "The Critic on My Shoulder," New York Times Magazine, 29 December 1996, p. 18. For New York Times critic Frank Rich, Lanford Wil¬ son's work reveals "the history of the American theatre from its absurdist heyday until now, the parallel history of America itself from the eve of the Vietnam era through its long aftermath, and the history of Wilson's own development as a quintessential American drama¬ tist." Behind Wilson's seductive mastery of language and character lurks a disturbing and sometimes grim vision of America and of both heterosexual and homo¬ sexual love. "The voice of the author's rural native Mis¬ souri rises like specters from the land," Rich writes, but Wilson's urban plays also contain specters of loneliness, failure, ineffectiveness, and desperation. The author of more than forty produced plays, Wilson is generally considered one of the major American dramatists of the Sixties generation and continues to be regarded as an important playwright. Although best known for works of "lyric realism," Wilson has used a wide range of non- realistic theatrical devices in his work. Lanford Eugene ("Lance") Wilson was born 13 April 1937 in Lebanon, Missouri, the only child of Vio- letta Careybelle Tate Wilson and Ralph Eugene Wil¬ son, a shoe repairman. In 1942, his parents divorced. His father moved to San Diego, where he worked as a riveter at an aircraft factory. Wilson moved with his mother to Springfield, Missouri, where she worked as a garment-factory seamstress. In 1948, Violetta remar¬ ried, a dairy inspector named W. E. Lenhart, and the family moved to a farm in Ozark, Missouri, where Wil¬ son attended Ozark High School and saw his first the¬ atre productions on school trips to Southwest Missouri State College. Wilson remembers best the touring pro¬ duction of the musical Brigadoon, which held him mes¬ merized, and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. "I had a great mother," Wilson wrote almost fifty years later, "who said, 'Get out of this town there's nothing for you here' (and a stepfather I was eager to remove myself from)." So, the young Wilson began casting around for ways out, at first thinking he would become a painter. In high school, Wilson played Tom in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie, along with other roles. He attended classes at Southwest Missouri State Col¬ lege in summer and fall 1955. In 1956, he was reunited with his father in San Diego and attended classes at San Diego State College while working in an aircraft fac- tory. After a conflict with his father, Wilson moved to Chicago in 1957, where he worked as an artist in an advertising agency and wrote short stories on the side. Realizing that one story idea might be better as a play, he enrolled in a playwriting class two years later at a University of Chicago extension. Wilson moved to New York City in July 1962 and had a watershed experience six months later when he first visited the Caffe Cino in Greenwich Village to see a production of Eugene Ionesco's The Lesson. The Caffe Cino provided an intimate, familial incubator for young American playwrights and theatre artists-many gay like Wilson himself. Admission was free at the tiny cof¬ feehouse, which had no permanent stage, but a hat was passed around for audience donations after the show. As Greenwich Village became the hub of an evolving counterculture movement, the Cino would sometimes pack 250 people into a space designed for fewer than 100. The Cino gave rise to Off-Off-Broadway theatre the "gay theatre"movement. Wilson submitted a copy of his one-act So Long at the Fair (produced 1963) to Joe Cino, the proprietor, and he agreed to present it on 25 August 1963. According to Wilson, it was written in just one day and was a "silly comedy" about a young hick who comes to the city. A boy packing to leave his apartment is restrained by a girl, a sexual predator, whom he ends up smother¬ ing and then hiding in a folding bed. The play has never been published, and all manuscript copies are believed lost, but, according to one witness, the play contained many of the elements for which Wilson later became famous: the well-integrated sense of structure, the occasional strain of sentimentality, and the odd, quirky brand of lyric comedy. So Long at the Fair was popular with audiences at the Cino, and Wilson followed it on 16 January 1964 with a double bill of one-acts, Home Free! and No Tres¬ passing. In Home Free!, set in a small New York City apartment, a woman is pregnant with her brother's baby. The sibling lovers inhabit an uneasy fantasy world with two imaginary children. The brother is terri¬ fied to leave the apartment, so his sister brings him (and the imaginary children) stories of the outside world, in which truth and lies are intermingled. The play ends on a terrifying note, as the couple is about to be evicted, the sister's baby is on its way, and the brother is unable to leave the apartment for help. Instead, he sends one of the imaginary children, as the curtain falls. Home Free turned out to be controversial. "We were surprised at the stir it caused," says Wilson. "We became so involved with the spirit of the characters' imagination, we forgot completely that they were living in an incestuous relationship." A rewritten version of the play was presented at the Cino a few months later. The play, as Wilson has acknowledged, shows many traces of the Theatre of the Absurd, particularly the works of Ionesco, but Wilson's characters are more like Anton Chekhov's, striving to make sense of their absurd lives. Wilson's characters always grow from the ground they occupy, whether that ground be a field in Missouri or a crumbling apartment in New York City. The Madness of Lady Bright, Wilson's next 1964 offering, features a flamboyantly gay male character as a protagonist. Leslie Bright, a drag queen, gives voice to an experience that had remained marginal, disguised, or ridiculous, and Wilson revolutionized the portrayal of gay men onstage and ultimately in the media as well. Jerry Tallmer's favorable review in the New York fbst (25 June 1964) was the first review of a Cino play in a major New York paper. Tallmer praised Wilson's "sure talent under good control," while finding the subject matter "repulsive." Writing in the Village Voice (21 May 1964), Michael Smith praised Wilson's "unmistakable talent for swift, biting characterization and adroit dia¬ logue." The Madness of Lady Bright ran five times at the Cino, for a total of more than two hundred perfor¬ mances, an extraordinary run for Off-Off-Broadway in any period. Wilson's first full-length play, Balm in Gilead, opened on 20 January 1965 at one of the other incuba¬ tors of new talent in the emerging Off-Off-Broadway theatre movement, the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Center. Balm in Gilead takes place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1960s, populated by addicts, prostitutes, and husders of all kinds. Set in a corner cof¬ fee shop and on the corner outside, the play reflects Wilson's exuberance with new forms of speech. Wilson based the setting on a coffee shop near his apartment, near a "needle park," an area frequented by heroin addicts. According to Wilson, it "was the hangout of the wildest crowd of hustlers, addicts, prostitutes and pushers I'd ever seen." He collected the dialogue of coffee-shop regulars and molded these scraps into his play The lives of most of the characters in Balm in Gilead are repetitive, alternating between action and sta¬ sis in a downward spiral. Their stories are told through a series of monologues to the audience amid the con¬ stant overlapping chatter of the coffee shop. The junk¬ ies focus on the next fix, the prostitutes on the next client. Joe has agreed to push heroin for "Chuckles," the local "Big Man," when he meets Darlene, a Mid- westerner new to the corner. Their developing romance is cut short when one of Chuckles's men kills Joe, and the despondent Darlene joins the crowd of walking wounded at the coffee-shop counter. In performance, this somewhat melodramatic plot is less important than the manner in which Wilson tells it. 1 t Dustjacket for the published version (1967) of Wilson's 1966play (Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina) Ludlow Fair, which opened at the Caffe Cino on 1 February 1965, addresses the frustration of young women living in New York a few years before the liber¬ ation of feminism. The two protagonists are opposites in that Rachel is from the country, and Agnes was born and raised in the city. But both women focus their lives on abusive or exploitative men, and their relationships with these absent men define them. As in The Madness of Lady Bright, Wilson paints an unidealized picture of urban life as it is, ending in stasis. In his next play, This Is the Rill Speaking, written in June 1965 and produced 20July 1965, Wilson returns to his native Missouri. He wrote later that the play "was a deliberate exercise to set down just the sound of the people, without thinking about how the play was to be done. A play for voices." This exercise set the tone and established the characters and issues that Wilson explored more fully in later works. In This Is the Rill Speaking, six actors play a variety of Missouri characters of different ages and backgrounds. Young adolescent boys explore masturbation against a background of fear and social stigma. Older boys get drunk and have to negotiate their stern parents. Old people read Bibles. Farmers talk about crops. There is no central plotline or character, except perhaps that of "Willy," the author's stand-in, a fourteen-year-old with ambitions to escape, to become a painter or a writer. The frankness of the play's sexual conversations give it an underlying tone of eroticism and regeneration. Wilson himself directed This Is the Rill Speaking at Caffe Cino on 20 July 1965. Reflecting two years later in the Village Voice (4 May 1967), Michael Smith called it "probably Lanford Wil¬ son's most beautiful play." Though Smith claims that it is too close in form to Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood and Thornton Wilder's Our Town, he calls the play "per¬ fect" and "a gem." In the meantime, La MaMa head Ellen Stewart had organized a tour of Europe, and This Is the Rill Speaking became one of the offerings. On 11 April 1966, the play reopened at New York City's Mar¬ tinique Theatre as part of the "Six from La MaMa" pro¬ gram. Wilson's next production at La MaMa, The Sand Castle; Or Harry Can Dance, opened 22 September 1965. Set in San Diego, the play examines a single emblematic American family. The production was directed and designed by Marshall Mason, who became a longtime collaborator and a leading interpreter of Wilson's work. Like Balm in Gikad, The Sand Castle employs moments of heightened realism, and direct addresses to the audi¬ ence both open and close the play. The Sand Castle shows Wilson at the service of an evolving La MaMa aes¬ thetic, nonverbal in thrust, geared to international festi¬ vals and European audiences seeking American avant-garde theatre. Wilson's ability to adapt himself to this evolving aesthetic, which emphasized repetition, nonnarrative or fragmentary scenes, movement, and song at a theater that seemed for a while to be his sec¬ ond home had been signaled by these sculptured sound poems. At Caffee Cino The Sand Castle was followed, on 28 December 1965, by a double bill of one-acts, Days Ahead and Sex Is Between Two People. In Days Ahead an man returns each year to a walled-off part of his lover's apartment to bring her up to date, but this time, he also brings a fork and begins to dig his way through the wall. The comic and poignant Sex Is Between Two People was Wilson's second play about gay life. Its setting is "the baths," where men go to seek casual sex and com¬ panionship. Although the two characters arrive with sex in mind, each is afraid to initiate contact. The dou¬ ble bill was lacerated by Smith in the Village Voice, who claimed Days Ahead illuminated "only a tiny area of experience" and that Sex Is Between Two People was "anec¬ dotal, unambitious, untheatrical." Wilson's last play at Caffe Cino was a short piece, Wandering, presented at a benefit on 10 April 1966. Wan¬ dering, which lasts only a few minutes, presents three characters: HIM, HE, and SHE. (The Caffe Cino pro¬ duction featured Wilson and Mason in the two male roles.) HIM goes wandering, does not like war, and wonders if people really want to spend their lives the way they do. HE and SHE represent voices of conven¬ tion. In one passage they are military recruiters during the draft. They refuse to release HIM until he says "I'm queer." "Get lost," HE tells HIM. A year later Cino was dead, and Lanford Wil¬ son's first theatrical home was on its way to extinction. With the help of a 1966 Rockefeller Foundation grant, Wilson turned back to the Midwest of his childhood. Like This Is the Rill Speaking, Wilson's second full-length play The Rimers of Eldritch is less about a set of individu¬ als than a whole community. The town of Eldritch, just down the road from Centerville, emerges as a tortured dramatic metaphor for the greed, repression, and prom¬ ise of America. It is a booming coal town; it is also a Christian town, and, like all Wilson's Christian com¬ munities, this one is rife with murderous, violent hypoc¬ risy and repression. Two male characters dominate the imaginations of the others. One is the local hero Driver, a race-car driver, secredy both violent and impotent, who crashes and burns and whose car is left wrecked on the main square of Eldritch. Driver crystallizes a key figure in Wilson's plays, that of the heterosexual male antagonist who is also an evil force. Opposed to this figure is the outsider-loner, the nonaggrandizing Skelly. The central present-time event of the play is Skeliys murder; he is gunned down in the act of rescuing Eva, a crippled girl, from Driver's younger brother. Driver Junior, as he is called, has been struggling against his older brother's legacy, but when his potency is challenged by Eva, he assaults her. Sex smoulders beneath the surface in Eldritch. Not all sexual hypocrisy comes from the men. Patsy, the prettiest girl in town, sleeps with all the boys, then cons one into marrying her when she gets preg¬ nant. She is contrasted with Cora, who runs the local cafe and dares challenge the church and the ruling sta¬ tus quo over Skeliys murder. She is the subject of a whisper campaign for taking in a younger man, and her attempt to bring out the truth of Skeliys murder is not successful. In a 1980 New York Times interview, Wilson com¬ mented on his hometown in Missouri, which deeply informs The Rimers of Eldritch: "I go back and find that half the people in my high school class are divorced, and someone has murdered someone else, and soandso is cheating on suchandsuch . . . yet all those idyllic val¬ ues I remember, the warm human values, are still there, too, existing in parallel." Sixteen years later Wilson described the birth of The Rimers of Eldritch in starker terms. The play, Wilson writes, emerged from a walk he took through the near ghost town of Mystic, Iowa: "I walked through town, nodding to an occasional person or couple, on a porch or staring from a window. No one spoke or nodded back. But the busted town spoke-of the greed and denial and desire and broken trusts and neglected promises of the Midwest, of rural America. Don't talk to me about the South and drugs and Har¬ lem and Appalachia, talk to me about Capitalism and commerce and the Christian Church's denial of the human heart, talk to me about the American way." The Rivers of Eldritch also clearly shows Wilson slowly popu¬ lating, reshuffling, and revealing the secrets of an imagi¬ nary country and an imaginary town—a place that parallels and intersects the real, evolving town of Wil¬ son's childhood. Wilson himself staged the original pro¬ duction of The Rimers of Eldritch, which opened 13 July 1966 at La MaMa. In February 1967, the play moved to the Cherry Lane Theatre in a production directed by Michael Kahn and designed by William Ritman. This production garnered Wilson his first major prize, the 1967 Vernon Rice-Drama Desk Award. In the Village Voice (23 February 1967), Smith wrote: "Obviously, Wil¬ son aspires beyond the familiar effects of sentimental naturalism or he would have written the play straight. He succeeds in making his moral statement, fails to lift the play onto an abstract plane." At the same time, the 1967 suicide of Cino, to whom The Rimers of Eldritch is dedicated, marked the end of Wilson's first theatrical home and the beginning of a two-year dry search for a new home that ended with the establishment of the Circle Repertory Theatre. Obsessed with age and dissolution, convinced that his pessimism was realism, and eager for success, Wilson sought to remake himself. While it is always difficult to assess the results of such remakings, it seems clear that the direction of Wilson's effort was away from the colle- gial experimentation of Caffe Cino and toward the "lyric naturalism" or "lyric realism" that became both his trademark and the trademark of the Circle Reper¬ tory Company. On 26 January 1968, at the beginning of one of the most turbulent years in U.S. history, Wilson staged Untitled Play at the Judson Poets' Theatre. The play remains unpublished, but Wilson's own description seems evocative of the times: "[It's] about the roots of patriotism. It is a free-form abstract play about the creat¬ ing of a country, war, etc." That play was followed closely by The Gingham Dog, which premiered at The New Dramatists Committee Workshop in New York on 26 February 1968. In The Gingham Dog, Wilson's third full-length play, Vincent, a handsome white man, is in the process of moving out of the last of a series of down¬ town apartments he has shared with his wife, Gloria, a black woman. Gloria and Vincent's relationship both parallels and intersects the central racial conflicts of the 1960s. The first act shows them using a full range of contemporary polemics against each other and against the other two characters, Vincent's naive sister from the heartland, Barbara, and a clever but ineffectual white neighbor, Robert. The second act explores the disinte¬ gration of Gloria and Vincent's love. In the end it is clear that what has happened to Vincent and Gloria is not exclusively because of race. Yet, the magical story of their first love and that love's collapse in misunder¬ standing and perceived betrayal seems emblematic of the collapse of Caffe Cino, the counterculture, and the promise of American race relations. As Wilson describes the play in his published introduction, it is a lament for the nation as a whole in the late 1960s: "The young people of my country are alive-they're living. I don't know how. It isn't just that they are living, they are refusing to die. While the country dies and dries and blows away from under them. How do they do it. They scream in anguish—bitterly angry and desperately sick because they love this country unbearably; and can't bear it. . . . The very soil is dying. The water and wildlife are poisoned and it's like smoking: it's a habit and it's killing us and we know it, but what can we do, we can't stop." On 26 September 1968, a new production opened at the Washington Theatre Club in Washington, D.C. The Gingham Dog was thus the first Wilson play to make the rounds of nonprofit regional theatres before return¬ ing to a major production in New York. This produc¬ tion path was a recent one, a new kind of "out-of-town tryout" now sponsored not by commercial theatres but by corporate-, foundation-, and government-funded institutions. On 23 April 1969 The Gingham Dog opened on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre in New York, directed by Alan Schneider with George Grizzard as Vincent and Diana Sands as Gloria. Critical response was mixed but generally favorable. Richard P. Cooke in the Wall Street Journal (25 April 1969), called the play "stimulating and timely." Whitney Bolton in the Morn¬ ing Telegraph (25 April 1969) felt that "Mr. Wilson has come fully to grips with his subject, has given it able writing and his characters have enormous truth," though he criticizes the play's "lack of flow and cohe¬ sion." Clive Barnes in The Mew York Times (24 April 1969), also had mixed feelings about the play, calling the "fragile interracial marriage" a "thin enough subject for a play" but also praising its "feeling for pain and a blunt honesty of expression that quietly moved me." The show closed after only five performances, but, as Wilson noted, more people saw its short Broadway run than saw the longest running of his works at Caffe Cino. In 1969 Wilson and Mason joined with other col¬ leagues in founding the Circle Repertory Company, which provided Wilson an opportunity to create sus¬ tained, trusting, working relationships with talented directors and performers. (Their first leased space on Manhattan's Upper West Side belonged to the Council for International Recreation, Culture and Lifelong Edu¬ cation, from which the company adopted the acronym "Circle.") On 9 August 1969, Wilson's Sextet (Yes), directed by Mason, became one of the company's first productions. A nonrealistic work, Sextet (Yes) features six characters, five middle-aged-Bill, Betsy, Bob, Belle, and Bert-and one in her twenties, Brenda. The characters sit in randomly placed chairs on the stage and narrate fragments of their interlocking relationships. The six people, Wilson wrote, "are people I worked for and with in Chicago. Their fascinating (to me at least) square dance of intertwined relationships was going to be the subject of a two act play, but the work kept get¬ ting more and more compact, more and more abstracted, until I found myself interested in the con¬ trast of their sounds, the great difference in their per¬ sonalities, more than I was in constructing any sort of realistic plot for them to cavort through." In November 1969 another short work, Stoop: A Turn, about three women on a New York City stoop, was presented as part of Foul! on New York Television Theater (Channel 13). A study in character, dialogue, and place, the play suggests the perils of old age, isola¬ tion, and uselessness. Two of the women discuss the day-to-day doings of the block and its surroundings; the third is silent. A child practices the same song on the piano, over and over again, stopping and restarting with each mistake. In this minimalist form Wilson captures all the stops, pauses, and idiosyncrasies of individual speech. Something of Wilson's early painting ambitions comes through in his approach to playwriting: his abil¬ ity to use words, sounds, and silence almost as if they were pigments spread across a physical canvas. On 26 March 1970, with Circle Rep (as the com¬ pany would eventually become known) still struggling to survive, Lemon Sky, one of Wilson's most personal and revealing plays, opened at the Buffalo Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, New York. Lemon Sky is an Ameri¬ can homecoming play in which Alan, now twenty-nine, reenacts an encounter twelve years earlier with his father, Douglas, a father he had barely known, at the father's new home in San Diego. Alan himself has grown up in Missouri in a succession of maternal homes. The basic data of Alan's adolescent chronology thus closely parallel Wilson's own. At his father's home, Alan finds Ronnie, the new wife, seemingly warm and supportive of Alan but trapped in her role as woman and mother, choosing to protect and defend her husband despite the resulting destruction of others around her. Douglas and Ronnie have two boys, aged twelve and eight, on whom Alan dotes, and two seventeen-year-old girls, wards of the state, Penny and Carol, the latter a nymphomaniac. Alan has come to San Diego to take classes at San Diego State, but Douglas quickly has him working full-time at the same defense-boom plant where he works. Douglas, like Driver in The Rimers of Eldritch, is a narrow-minded and parochial sexual preda¬ tor, utterly self-involved and dangerous to anyone who gets in his way. Because Alan is sensitive, caring, and creative, Douglas is convinced he is gay, and the play ends with the reenactment of Alan's eviction from the household. There is a striking contrast between the treatment of various kinds of sexual transgressions in the world of Lemon Sky. Douglas's groping of the teenage Penny in a dark room is treated by Ronnie as a domestic problem. She reprimands Douglas in the privacy of their room but does no more. Ronnie also sees nothing wrong with lying to Alan about Carol, seeking to protect her. Doug¬ las, on the other hand, is frightened and enraged at even the possibility that Alan might be gay: "I'm saying you're through around this house. Not with my kids— not—you're not going to make sissies out of my two boys and you're not going to breathe in my house-not my air anymore." Alan loves the two young boys but must leave them. The two sexual outsiders, Alan and Carol, both suffer terribly from such harsh judgments. Wilson has called Lemon Sky "my most nakedly autobiographical play." The Buffalo production reopened in New York at the five-hundred-seat Play¬ house Theatre, 17 May 1970, featuring Christopher Walken as Alan. Reviewing the play in The Nation, 1 June 1970, Harold Clurman called it "fluently and hon¬ estly written" and praised Wilson's realistic American¬ ism. In the New Yorker (30 May 1970), Edith Oliver, not usually a fan of Wilson's, gave grudging praise: "The play is not very sturdy, but it is certainly more enter¬ taining than anything else of Mr. Wilson's that I've seen. His work always seems to me to have a synthetic ring, but there is less of that here than ever before, and less sentimentality, too." John J. O'Connor was more generous in the Wall Street Journal (22 May 1970): "Lan¬ ford Wilson has been on the verge of becoming one of America's most accomplished and significant play¬ wrights for about 10 years. With Lemon Sky he makes it." Lemon Sky was included in the seventh series of Best Plays 1967-1973, edited by Clive Barnes. But despite what Wilson recalls as "to-dream-about raves," the show closed after seven performances. Serenading Louie (1970) was Wilson's second pro¬ duction to open at the Washington Theatre Club. Its tide is a reference to Louis Linder, early-twentieth-century proprietor of the Temple Bar in New Haven, favored by Yale students and referred to in the Yale anthem "The Whiffenpoof Song." The play portrays the troubled upper-middle-class marriages of Carl and Mary and their friends Alex and Gabrielle. The topics are famil¬ iar-infidelity, career, isolation, uselessness-but they are enlivened by Wilson's acutely observed dialogue and by the structural device of having both marriages fall apart on the same set, the same "traditional, American antique furniture." The use of a conventionally realistic setting to create an unrealistic effect casts the couples' world even further into question. The play ends with Carl's suicide and Gabrielle's departure from Alex. Wilson's setting in Serenading Louie comes to define the hopeless quests of the characters, seeking to escape from their velvet prison in a northern Chicago suburb. Like all of Wilson's plays of this early period, there are also direct addresses to the audience. The play was rejected by New York producers in 1970, according to Wilson because they considered it "too much of a downer to take to New York." Writing of the 1970 pro¬ duction, the Washington Rst reviewer praised Wilson's "damned good" dialogue. "The talk is not only listen- able but, to the players' obvious pleasure, sayable." The Circle Repertory Company finally produced the play in New York, under Mason's direction, in 1976. The aspirations of Circle Rep included attracting a new audience for plays and productions that would bridge the gap between "uptown" and "downtown" the¬ atre. The desire was to stage good theatre on a larger budget than Off-Off Broadway. The first location of the Circle Repertory Company-in a second-floor loft on the Upper West Side-suggests the attempt of the founders boldly to carry the lessons and experience of downtown theatre uptown. The company also sought to apply the successful model of the regional theatres and New York nonprofits to the creation of new plays and playwrights-to the regeneration of American the¬ atre and to the advancement of their own careers as a vital part of that theatre. Yet, the first years of Circle Rep were problemati¬ cal artistically for Wilson, who went through his first long dry period as a playwright. He received a commis¬ sion from the Stable Theatre Club in Manchester, England, for a new play for two of its actresses to serve as a companion piece to Ludlow Fair. In The Great Nebula in Orion (1971), Carrie and Louise are former college roommates reuniting ten years later. Carrie, formerly a political activist, is now an upper-class housewife and mother. After the two get drunk on brandy, Carrie breaks down completely, revealing the hollowness of her current life. Wilson implies that Louise has had a relationship with another woman, but she does not explicitly reveal her suspicion to Carrie. Throughout, both characters talk freely to the audience, not in asides, but each fully aware that the other is breaking the fourth wall. Formal experimentation, the willingness to try whatever works, led Wilson to a variety of new forms and devices. He adapted the libretto from Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke (1947) for a Lee Hoiby opera by the same name. The opera premiered in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the St. Paul Opera Association on 19 June 1971 and reopened at the New York City Opera, State Theatre, on 20 March 1972. Leighton Kerner, in the Village Voice, wrote: '"Summer and Smoke' . . . may not be a great opera, but it is a good one." Despite Kerner's faulting Wilson for only "prun¬ ing" Williams's text, rather than shaping it to the "needs of vocal music," the opera was generally well received. The Great Nebula in Orion joined two new one-act plays-Ikke, Ikke, Nye, Nye Nye and The Family Continues— on a triple bill at Circle Rep that opened 21 May 1972. Ikke, Ikke, Nye, Nye, Nye (first performed at the Yale Cab¬ aret on 13 January 1972) is an exuberant, extended comic turn, for two characters: the mild-mannered Gra¬ ham, who makes obscene phone calls, and Edith, who teeters between despising men and wanting to be rav¬ aged by them. The Family Continues is dedicated "to the members of the Circle Theatre Company and their director" (Mason) and was written "to showcase more of the Company, and give some of the other actors a challenge." The Family Continues, according to Wilson, "should be considered a game, an exercise in swift char¬ acterization and ensemble cooperation." The text is printed "with minimal stage directions to encourage directors and actors to work as unfettered as possible." The play follows Steve, his family, and, particularly in the last part of the play, his son, Steve Jr., through a rapid-fire series of "life stages," dictated by a Narrator. Smith began his 8 June 1972 review in the Village Voice of the three one-acts, "Lanford Wilson writes real plays, in which interest is engaged not by the formal enterprise, but by the characters and their story.... He is an innovative and adventurous craftsman, but his plays have an unfashionable clarity or subject and their focus is on the sentiments of people. ... He comes to his characters with an indulgent fondness reminiscent of Williams and Saroyan, a tradition rightly to be val¬ ued and sustained." George L. George in Backstage (12 November 1972), writing of the second Circle Theatre production, called the three plays "inconclusive samples of Lanford Wilson's demonstrated gifts." If The Family Continues was a hastily constructed and critically unloved ensemble piece, the same cannot be said for The Hot I Baltimore (1972), which Wilson also wrote for the Circle Company, with the help of a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. The play takes place in a dilapidated but once grand hotel near the railroad that once served as both the symbol and the reality of the America it traversed. Into this emblematically American setting, Wilson weaves a collection of losers and loners, whores and dreamers, the flotsam and jet¬ sam of the American dream. There are striking similari¬ ties to Balm in Gilead, but while the earlier play attempts to evoke a setting through words and action, the new one seems more concerned with providing turns for actors against a background that is due to disappear. While Balm in Gilead focused dramatic attention on Joe and Darlene, The Hot 1 Baltimore has several dramatic centers. The play focuses on the small loss, the small dream, the small hustle. In this sense, The Hot I Baltimore lacks some of the grimness of Balm in Gilead and most of Wilson's non-ensemble pieces. The characters are mostly "down and out," at or near the edge, but it is also an optimistic play, a paean to a vanishing America that was tough and spunky but filled with the milk of human kindness, ultimately sanctified by their dreams. The Hot I Baltimore won the 1972 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play, the Obie Award for Best Off-Broadway Play, 1972-1973 and was Wilson's biggest New York success to date. It trans¬ ferred to the large Circle-in-the-Square Theatre with the original cast, reopening 22 March 1973, featuringJudd Hirsch as Bill Lewis, the hotel night clerk. Barnes, in The New York Times, called The Hot I Baltimore "an easy play to love." Writing of a revival twenty-seven years later at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Ben Brant¬ ley in The New York Times (7 July 2000) recalled that "Even in 1973 reviewers remarked that the play was a throwback to an earlier, more sentimental era of lyric drama, when William Saroyan was serving up the dreams of the unsung and the unwanted. Here again was a parade of lovable prostitutes and mixed nuts. . . . Like Saroyan, Mr. Wilson generated a democratic glow of love for American diversity, even as the show sym¬ bolically pointed to the country's decline." The Mound Builders (1975), written with the assis¬ tance of a second Rockefeller grant, presents a heady mix of sex, ambition, celebrity, and friendship. It was presented by the Circle Repertory Company in their new theatre in Greenwich Village's Sheridan Square, directed by Mason on 2 February 1975. The play begins with an authoritative male character, August, attempt¬ ing to order a summer archaeological dig in southern Illinois. His wife, Cynthia, becomes the sex slave of Chad Jasker, the heir to a valuable property next to a new interstate highway. The property is also the site of August's dig, and in August's party is Dan, a brilliant young archaeologist, and his wife, Jean. Chad loves Jean and is devastated when he discovers she is preg¬ nant with Dan's child. He uses Cynthia as an available substitute. Into this simmering mix arrives August's sis¬ ter, D.K., a famous author and intellectual who seeks to make a mark but seems helpless against sex and greed. The discovery of a god-king's grave, a relic of the Mis- sissippian culture, sets the ambitions of the archaeolo¬ gists against those of Chad, who has imagined himself the heir of a sizable fortune in land. Unknown to him, however, the archaeologists have stopped the income-producing interstate with a phone call to the state capitol. In revenge for turning his dream into a pipe dream, Chad runs a tractor through the dig site and murders Dan. Wilson has described his thinking behind the play's tide and themes as follows: "There's a monster out there. I knew also that the something out¬ side, the monster, was really something inside. I knew that the play was about work, achievement, and a threat to livelihood, that at the burning heart of the theme was: Why do we strive to achieve? To build, to make our mark? Why are we Mound Builders?" Writing in The Times (London) Saturday Review, Barnes extolled The Mound Builders: "In the sheer com¬ plexity of its thought and feeling it is one of the most interesting American plays in years, and the writing is absolutely masterly." Mel Gussow in The New York Times called it "an epic in the guise of a family drama," and Martin Gottfried in the New York Pbst wrote that "there is a fabulous beauty in the play's writing." Patrick Pacheco in After Dark wrote: "Under Marshall Mason's expert direcdon, The Mound Builders emerged as a stir¬ ring and impressive new play, the major dramatic event of the otherwise lackluster Off-Broadway season." While the mainstream newspapers extolled the play, Dick Brukenfeld in the Village Voice (10 February 1975), under the headline "Theatrical Nembutol," called Wil¬ son's people "unsubstantial, their actions unconvinc¬ ing." The Village Voice did, however, honor Wilson for the play later that year with another Obie Award. The pace of Wilson's work began to slow by the mid 1970s. He spent more time on research-for exam¬ ple, on the archaeologists of The Mound Builders-and he took longer to complete scripts. He was intimately involved with the day-to-day affairs of Circle Rep and increasingly devoted to his garden in Sag Harbor. A conflict between youthful certainty and later doubts is central to Brontosaurus, a 1977 one-act play about three unnamed characters: an antique dealer; her assistant; and her nephew, a theology student. The nephew is a Platonist, the dealer an Aristotelian; there is no romance between them, but there is the sense of the older woman's need for contact, companionship, and connection. The play contrasts ideals and practice, theological certainty with quotidian compromises, the "real" versus the artificial. "With his customary artistry," wrote Gussow in The New York Times (27 October 1977), "Mr. Wilson moves the play from antique shop to apartment, with one conversation flowing into another . . . such is the strength and the humor of. .. Mr. Wilson's writing that even on an unadorned stage, we feel the character's anxiety and loneliness, and her disdain for society's loss of form, order and beauty." Despite a lukewarm review (7 November 1977), the Village Voice's Terry Curtis Fox liked the play, noting that "the boy's declamation of his revelation is like a Handel aria." A split was apparent between the critics in the mainstream press, increasingly enchanted with Wilson, and those downtown, who were critical and disenchanted. This fact may have more to do with a change in Wilson's position and sub¬ ject matter than with his writing. Oliver in The New Yorker (20 March 1978), also continues to be an unbe¬ liever: "Mr. Wilson, an experienced dramatist with sev¬ eral successful plays to his credit, obviously knows what he is doing; I just wish I did." The critical frustration with Wilson that seems to seep through the lines of some of the Brontosaurus reviews was soon to be dispelled. On 18 April 1978 what was to become one of Wilson's most popular plays, 5th of July, opened at Circle Repertory Theatre. The play, the first of his "Talley Trilogy," won the 1978 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play, the Drama-Logue Award, and a Tony Award nomination. In his introduction to 5th of July, Wilson relates his own artistic "floundering" with the frustration of a genera¬ tion that had endured the war in Vietnam without fun¬ damentally changing the country in which they lived. The young idealists of the educated classes became young professionals and lost heart. 5th of July is a play about cynicism, greed, and what was left behind. It is set in Lebanon, Missouri, on 4 and 5 July 1977 in an old family house built in 1865. Kenneth Talley, who lost both legs in Vietnam, shares the sprawling old house, which he intends to sell, with his boyfriend Jed, the strong silent type, who is building a garden behind the old place and wants Ken to stay down there with him. Two of Ken's college housemates (the third is his sister, June), John and his wife, Gwen, a pop singer, are visiting with the intention of buying the house. They have brought in tow Wes, a slow-witted musician. The cast of characters is completed by Aunt Sally and teen¬ age Shirley, who dashes about spying on people and dressing in outlandish clothing. Ken is supposed to stay LANFORD WILSON *' M *1" tfiJ* v" -Si M -<V 3?' >* >£45 Z)«i/ jacket for the published version (1973) of Wilson's 1972 play, which won the Drama Critics Circle Award (■<ivww.ebay.com>) n Lebanon to teach school-he is a gifted teacher-but he wants to flee the place. The Talleys are both of and foreign to the place; their options give them choices and aden those choices with moral meaning. Writing in the London Guardian of the original Cir¬ cle Rep production, Michael Billington called Wilson "one of our most brilliant" playwrights. Martin Gott¬ fried praised Wilson by elaborating indirectly his audience-pleasing traits: "There aren't many plays to see that are as interesting and absorbing and feeling and funny as this." Barnes revived the comparison of Wil¬ son with an earlier purveyor of groups in country houses: "Here perhaps is the true comparison with Chekhov. Eight people, all subtly interlinked. . . . You see them bounce off one another like clowns and acro¬ bats." Wilson's ability to imagine recognizable middle- and upper-middle-class American speech was noted by Clurman in The Nation: "The writing is wittily deft throughout, the general tone hilariously batty; and though the insights are swiftly passed over, we have fre¬ quent intimations of their presence. The play is utterly unpretentious; Wilson appears to want merely to amuse us, but something more than simple entertain¬ ment is achieved. Wilson sees: his sight is cockeyed but on target." The play eventually moved to a Broadway pro¬ duction, still directed by Mason, with Christopher Reeve as Kenneth Talley Jr. In a review of this later interpretation in The New York Times, 6 November 1980, Frank Rich raved, "Mr. Wilson has poured the full bounty of his gifts into this work, and they are the gifts of a major playwright. 5th of July is a densely packed yet buoyant outpouring of empathy, poetry and humor, all shaped into a remarkable vision. That vision is Mr. Wilson's own, morning-after-independence Day dream of a democratic America—a community with roots for everyone, an enlightened place where the best ideals can bloom." The critical effort to reframe Wilson as a quintessentially American seriocomic and lyrical realist playwright, which advanced his commercial career, seems clearly evident in Rich's presentation of 5th of July. Talley's Folly, the next play in Wilson's "Talley Tril¬ ogy," travels back in time to the Talley Boathouse on the night of 4 July 1944. The ninety-minute play is per¬ formed without intermission. Matt Friedman, whose ashes figure in 5 th of July, has come to Lebanon to woo Sally Talley. Matt does not want children, and it turns out Sally cannot have them. At the end, it does indeed end happily; Matt and Sally are on their way to be mar¬ ried in St. Louis, merrily childless. Sally and Matt, with their ability finally to listen to and embrace each other, are a new model for heterosexual couples in Wilson's plays. Talley's "folly" itself, the old Talley boathouse in which the play is set, is a symbol of beauty and eccen¬ tricity. Talley's Folly won the Pulitzer Prize in drama and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, as well as the Drama-Logue Award and a 1980 Tony nomination for best play. It was written for two Circle Rep actors, Judd Hirsch and Trish Hawkins, and was directed by Mason. The play was accused of sentimentality by crit¬ ics such as Walter Kerr in The New York Times (21 Febru¬ ary 1980) and Brendon Gill at the New Yorker (17 November 1980). Gerald Weales in Commonweal (23 February 1979) saw the play as "the marriage of two ste¬ rilities." Clurman in The Nation identified Wilson with American realism and praised his work in contrast to the pessimism of Wilson's contemporaries. A Tab Told (1980) neatly overlaps Talley's Folly, tak¬ ing place in the "Talley mansion up the hill from Matt and Sally's boathouse." Matt has been expelled from the house, and Sally, already committed to marrying Matt, makes her escape with the help of Aunt Lottie. There are three generations of Talley males in residence this 4th of July night, two still with their wives in resi¬ dence. The three generations are "Old Man" Talley, eighty-five, business shrewd and stroppy; his son, Eldon, not quite up to par; and Eldon's sons Kenny (not Kenny Jr. from 5th of July) and Timmy, both back from the war a little worse for wear. There are also Aunt Lottie, Eldon's shrewd sister, dying of cancer from the unprotected use of radium paint; Olive, one of Wil¬ son's utterly selfish and manipulative heterosexual women; and, of course, Sally Talley. Wilson's revision of the play under the new title Talley & Son reflects his desire to bring some of the les¬ sons and closures of the Talley family, heavily redolent of America itself, to bear on the tragedy of Vietnam. The lesson is that it is time to try something new. That is how the family has survived, and that is why it is Eldon, the heir who is unable to change, who winds up the loser in this powerful last play of the trilogy, revealed as a cheater to his wife and destroyed in busi¬ ness by his father and eldest son. Writing more than fifteen years after Talley ir Son's composition, Wilson mentioned the "fun" of "imagin¬ ing what was happening up at the house during all this time. I knew I would write it because I wanted to see the other people in the family." He also claimed, "I wanted, again, to write a play of the period—a play in the style of the 1940s. Only instead of a romantic com¬ edy, this would be one of those potboilers, the sort of influenced-by-Ibsen plays Lillian Hellman was writing at the time. I'm not terribly good at plotting potboilers." Wilson uses his supposed lack of skill in plotting to explain why Talley 6" Son needed two versions. By 1981, Wilson seemed financially secure, his plays frequendy performed in regional, community, and academic theatres, assuring him a steady stream of income. At least as important, he had a stable profes¬ sional theatrical home in Circle Rep and a close collabo¬ rator in Mason. With the Talley trilogy, he became recognized in the mainstream as a central figure in the American theatre. In New York, John Simon calls Wil¬ son's "strength . . . extracting the extraordinary from the ordinary, and making it psychologically and dra¬ matically plausible." A series of one-act plays followed in 1981. Victory on Mrs. Dandywine's Island (subtitled A Fable of Manners) premiered at the Circle Rep Lab Theatre in January. Thymus Vulgaris was presented as a staged reading 4 June 1981, as part of the One-Act Play Festival of the Lincoln Center Theatre Company. Its premier production was in Los Angeles at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. Another comic-style piece, Thymus Vulgaris features a mother and daughter, Ruby and Evelyn, in a California trailer park, reuniting after a long separation. Evelyn has been a prostitute in Las Vegas and has attracted Solly, an impotent high roller with business troubles. The mother and daughter's polite conversation about the daughter's work is funny, keyed by Wilson's usual ear for dialect. Thymus vulgaris is the Latin name for the common thyme that Ruby's last boyfriend had planted. Beneath the comedy at her expense, Wilson exhibits sympathy for the dead-end life of Ruby and women like her. With the help of a policeman who is also an aspir¬ ing actor, the play takes a lyrical turn, as Ruby and Eve¬ lyn head off for an imagined restful house at the beach, to be provided by Solly. On 29 October 1981, Lee Melville commented in Drama-Logue: "Wilson's tales always include fascinating characters. . . . Thymus Vul¬ garis is Wilson at his funniest." On 10 January 1982, Thymus Vulgaris was one of three one-act plays in the program Confluence at Circle Rep. In the summer of 1982, following a period of national attention to the dangers of nuclear facilities, Wilson's full-length play Angels Fall opened at the New World Festival in Miami, Florida. The production, directed by Mason, reopened that fall at Circle Rep with one cast change and moved intact to Broadway (where it received a Tony nomination) the following summer. The play's Chin Rock Uranium Mine in Northwest New Mexico is having a problem—as it has several times in the past-and a group of intellectuals, professionals, and outsiders are stranded at a local mis¬ sion church. Father Doherty is an intelligent exile from Massachusetts, in love with the country, and with him is Don, a brilliant Indian doctor Father Doherty has raised. Marion is the lover of a deceased "regional art¬ ist," and her lover Zappy is a professional tennis player on a run of bad tournament draws. Niles is a professor who has "flipped" in his Ivy League classroom and sav¬ aged his own work; he and his younger, upper-class wife, Vita, are on their way to an expensive insane asy¬ lum for a mandatory cure. The central decision among the many plot threads is that of Don, who must choose whether to remain as a healer on the desperate, dis¬ eased reservation, or to take a highly paid cancer research position in California. Angels Fall received near-unanimous critical acclaim from both the mainstream and "alternative" press. Julius Novick in the Village Voice wrote: "Mr. Wil¬ son has dramatized . . . interactions so deftly . . . that Angels Fall is a warm, funny, touching, highly satisfying theatrical evening. . . . Mr. Wilson's characters-most of them, anyway—have their own voices, their own ways of speaking, feeling, being. They're there. They're them¬ selves. They cast shadows. They draw you in." Frank Rich in The New York Times was just as effusive: "By now we've come to depend on Mr. Wilson's talent for find- ing the humanity in everyone he places on a stage, whether the setting be the Hot 1 Baltimore or the Talley family's Missouri farm. With equal depth, this writer can draw young people and old, men and women, Jews and Christians (both faithful and lapsed), hetero- and homosexuals, idealists and cynics. Mr. Wilson is one of the few artists in our theater who can truly make Amer¬ ica sing." Again, we see that Wilson is being framed as an emblematically American playwright. Ross Wetzseon in New York magazine echoes this sentiment: "Wilson is our supreme poet of loss and endurance. ... In his extraordinary empathy for ordinary people, he may be the last populist playwright." Wilson's next play, Breakfast at the Track, is a short piece first created for a Circle Rep benefit at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in January 1983. Set in a hotel room at 6:30 A.M., the play features a nameless wife and hus¬ band. The couple have an unsatisfactory marriage because they sleep on different schedules. Written for the East End Gay Organization, which represented gays in the Hamptons and Sag Har¬ bor areas of Long Island, where Wilson had taken up permanent residence, Say de Kooning followed on 7 Sep¬ tember 1983 at Southampton College. The play is set in a summer rental in Bridgehampton. Bob, Willie, and her girlfriend, Mandy, spend the Labor Day weekend there. All are workaholic, neurotic overachievers, con¬ cerned with romance, career decisions, and summer housing. Bob, a talented artist, is continuing his stay on the island, although he is constantly packing. Like Breakfast at the Track, this one-act is a snapshot of the New York professional and aspiring-professional class, its concerns and constant carping, marvelously cap¬ tured, as usual, in Wilson's dialogue. Even here there is occasionally a bite, as when Willie describes court employees as "drones, gravitated to a job for drones, used by the powers-that-be as a buffer against change. . . . There is no future for us and has never been a future because through some tragic biological accident the species breeds too many of these dedicated automatons with every generation for us ever to rise above them." To which Mandy replies: "I think they don't like their jobs." Willie may be up for the job of New York health commissioner. Bob struggles to decide whether to return to New York or stay in the Hamp¬ tons. At the end both their problems are solved with a relaxation-breathing exercise. Wilson attempted his first translation when the Hartford Stage Company commissioned from him a new version of Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters, over which he labored for two years, learned Russian, and immersed himself in the world of his "favorite play." It premiered at the Hartford Stage Company in April 1984. In his introduction Wilson describes his determi¬ nation to find English equivalents for Chekhov's humor, natural dialogue, and blend of symbolism and realism. Chekhov's situation writing for the Moscow Art Theatre clearly resonates for Wilson with his own Circle Repertory Company experience. Wilson and Chekhov also share many areas of thematic concern in their portraits of provincial and professional life. Hart¬ ford Stage artistic director Mark Lamos, who directed the first production, was enthusiastic about "the joy of discovering a Three Sisters with a playwright whose own plays carry so much of the same kind of nuances, sym¬ bols and character psychology." Reviewing the Hart¬ ford Stage production on 6 April 1984, Gussow in The New York Times called Wilson "one of the most Chek- hovian of American playwrights," praising the transla¬ tion for its evocation of character and its "sympathy." In November 1984, Wilson wrote La Betrothal, a one-act that opened in London, at the Man-in-the-Moon Theatre, 26 September 1986, with Ben Kingsley. The play is set on "the corner of a large tent." Ms. Joslyn, a thoroughly aggressive woman, is paired with Mr. Wasserman, a large but very mild-mannered man. Both are breeders, not of animals, but of plants. They con¬ verse about gardening likes and dislikes that turn out to be complementary. Their dialogue is replete with the misunderstandings of eccentric loners-each has observed each other's entries-and the petty conflict of obsessive circles. As Wasserman says, "I wouldn't make a decision myself; what if someone saw it?" Walter Goodman in The New York Times (2 December 1987), writing of the New York premiere, called the play "a gag—and a very funny one." The Betrothal was first produced 1 December 1987 in New York on a triple bill with Say de Kooning and The Bottle Harp at the Dragonfly Theatre Company under the title Halls of the North American Forests (derived from a speech in The Bottle Harp referencing an exhibit at New York's Museum of Natural History). Goodman, in The New York Times summarized the plot of this unpublished work as follows: "young unsettled Buddy, on his first visit to New York, looks out from his sister's apartment on Central Park West... . Buddy is a loner; his sister is a loner; her friend, who reacts convulsively to Bobby's touch, is the biggest loner of all. Brother and sister find comfort in remembering the fence of empty whiskey bottles their alcoholic father created around their home; when the wind blows, the empties make music." Com¬ paring The Bottle Harp with Say de Kooning Goodman comments that: "The homosexual desires that pop ner¬ vously from the closet in The Bottle Harp are out front in the 1980 Say de Kooning, a more sophisticated if less per¬ sonal work." In a 1988 profile of Wilson, David Savran assessed his success: "Among the many playwrights to have emerged from the Off-Off Broadway movement, Wilson has unquestionably been the most successful commercially. His work has been seen extensively on Broadway and has become a staple of the regional the¬ atre." Savran emphasized Wilson's realism and conven¬ tionality, though he acknowledged that Wilson has "appropriated devices ... to break the naturalistic tex¬ ture." Savran sees Wilson as "a skilled writer of roman¬ tic fictions, providing audiences with a modicum of self-examination." Wilson told Savran that: "Up to The Mound Builders, I felt that I never had a complete formal education. People like me read too much, see too much, over-compensate all over the place." Wilson discussed his study of the well-made play and called the upcom¬ ing Burn This (1987) "the best thing I've done." In one interesting exchange, Wilson described his long-term working relationship with director Mason: "He has seen a play at least fifteen times over the year I've been working on it. We've seen readings of it. He has read scenes. I've read scenes to him. He knows more or less what the play is, so we both know exactly what we want." Wilson also discussed his continuous rewriting, which continues past production, and praised the the¬ atre artists of his own time. Earlier in 1987, the Circle Repertory production of Wilson's commercially and popularly successful play, Burn This, directed by Mason, opened in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum. The play, which had been com¬ missioned by Circle Rep, reopened in New York a month later and then moved to the Plymouth Theatre on Broadway on 14 October 1987. The original cast fea¬ tured Joan Allen as Anna, Circle Rep regular Jonathan Hogan as Burton, Lou Liberatore as Larry, and John Malkovich as Pale. Like earlier 1980s plays, this one addresses gay reality in New York without direcdy con¬ fronting the AIDS crisis. The focus of the play is on relationships and creativity, and the setting is "a huge loft in a converted cast-iron building in lower Manhat¬ tan." Anna, a beautiful and talented dancer, in the pro¬ cess of becoming a choreographer, is discovered onstage, smoking and drinking, recovering from a bad day and night at the funeral of her roommate, Robbie, a talented gay dancer who drowned in a boating accident. The funeral took place at the home of Robbie's tradi¬ tional Italian-American family. Anna's boyfriend, Bur¬ ton, a rich, handsome screenwriter, arrives on the scene, bubbling about his new script. Wilson said he based Burton's obsession with the writer's "process" on his own experience. Larry is a funny, acerbic, slightly despairing gay male in advertising. Into this diminished group of artist-professionals comes Pale, Robbie's brother, a passionate, endlessly inventive, and "ethnic" manager of an expensive Italian restaurant. He and Anna are attracted to one another, and they sleep together in a brief blackout between late night and early morning the next day. Neither Pale nor Anna, however, anticipates a long-term commitment. In the second act, Burton and Anna drift apart as Anna feels suffocated by Burton's love and possessiveness of her. Burton and Larry ultimately end up alone, as Anna devotes herself to a new dance, inspired by her affair with Pale. In the end Pale returns to her, and the two seem ready to explore a deeper relationship. The New York Times review of Burn This by Gus- sow began: "From his earliest plays to his latest... Lan¬ ford Wilson has been firmly committed to the free expression of the individual spirit, no matter how non-conformist or even prodigal that spirit may seem to be. . . . Mr. Wilson exposes deep uncauterized emo¬ tional wounds-and offers no salve. His unlikely roman¬ tic couple come together at the end of the play, but it would be precipitous to think of it as a happy ending." The play drew national raves as well. Jack Kroll in Newsweek called Burn This "A mainline shot of theatrical adrenaline for an audi¬ ence that hasn't seen or heard anything to match the sheer theatricality of Wilson's new play in years. . . .Wil¬ son comes back explosively to reclaim his place among the leading American dramatists. . . . Burn This is nei¬ ther a straight play nor a gay one (or perhaps it's the first play that's truly both straight and gay), a comedy that laughs at its own tragic roots, a love story in which the lovers are scared to death of one another, a play about art in which the strongest sensibility belongs to a character who looks upon artists as frauds." In New York magazine, John Simon wrote simply: "Lan¬ ford Wilson is our most satisfying dramatist. Burn This has every ingredient to make it a success." After the success of Burn This there followed a period of nearly five years before Wilson's next full-length play. On 8 June 1988 the one-act A Fbster of the Cosmos opened at New York's Ensemble Studio Theatre. In this monologue, written for the actor Tom Noonan, a man describes his wish to die after losing his male lover to AIDS. He even drinks some of the infected blood, but it has no effect on him, and he feels condemned to live. Like Burn This, A Paster of the Cosmos (the last word of the title refers to both the universe and the defunct New York soccer team) is about the mysteries of pas¬ sion and scary things that cannot be explained. Unlike Burn This, however, there is no longer a possibility of hope at the end. Hope is now death, because death has taken hope. The play uses the form of the solitary monologue as a simple but powerful performance meta¬ phor for facing death alone. The Moonshot Tape was included on a double bill with A Fbster of the Cosmos at Humboldt State University in Areata, California, as part of the California State University Summer Arts '90, on 11 August 1990. The Moonshot Tape, written as a companion monologue to A Poster of the Cosmos, is about a woman writer reminiscing about her hippie days, "when everything was black and white. No grey areas like now, everywhere is a grey area now." But her hippie days are past. Diane's mother is on her way to a nursing home, and she has come home—to a home that has scarred her. The central event in Diane's rural childhood was sexual abuse by her stepfather, on whom she exacts a complicated revenge. Wilson's next full-length play, Redwood Curtain (1992), was commissioned by the Circle Repertory Company. Wilson was increasingly concerned with ghosts, and he found a particularly evocative subject in Vietnam veterans who were abandoning civilization for a life of homeless wandering, drifting behind the "red¬ wood curtain" of the northern California forests. One of these drifters, Lyman, is pursued by a sharp Viet¬ namese American girl, Geri, a musical prodigy who believes Lyman is her biological father. She passes out when he reveals an eagle tattoo, ending the first scene. In scene 2, we discover from Geri's "Aunt" Geneve that the forest, which her family had once owned, is threat¬ ened after a hostile takeover of her family's business. This wealthy family has "given Geri everything" in a personally distant, upper-class manner but cannot pre¬ vent her obsession with her "real" parents or her deci¬ sion to abandon the piano. In the end, Geri's real father turns out to be the drunken man she thought was her stepfather, who taught her piano. The play ends in an exorcism, as Lyman, who remembers Geri's parents in Vietnam, joins hands with her for healing and music. Redwood Curtain is more explicitly mystical than Wilson's other works, reflecting perhaps a genuine desire to exorcise the memory of Vietnam. The themes of parenthood, stewardship, music, and healing are intermingled, as are drama and comedy. The play also raises familiar concerns about environmental steward¬ ship under capitalism, as Geri's family's lumber busi¬ ness is retaken over by anonymous investors with no sense of connection to the land. Redwood Curtain received successive productions, all directed by Mason, at three major regional theatres: Seattle Repertory Theatre (8 January 1992), the Phila¬ delphia Drama Guild (6 March 1992), and the follow¬ ing year at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. The Old Globe production-starring Jeff Daniels, Sung Yun Cho, and Debra Monk-transferred to Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, opening 30 March 1993. Frank Rich, reviewing the Broadway opening in The New York Times 31 March 1993 called Redwood Curtain Wilson's "most powerful since 'Talleys Folly in 1979" and "a state-of-the-nation piece for the early 1990's" about "the self-destructive American habit of practicing amnesia about all its past nightmares." Rich criticizes the beginning of the play, though, for awkward exposi¬ tion as well as the conception of Geri as "a fantasist with mystical tendencies." Critical opinion in general was likewise mixed to negative, and the production ran for only forty performances on Broadway. It reached greater audiences in 1995 when it was adapted for ABC Television's Hallmark Hall of Fame. (The television script, which Wilson did not write, expanded the play, giving it an entirely new first act and a new character-Laird, Geri's father.) Wilson's works continued to be popular in the nonprofit regional theatre circuit, especially his one-act plays. Eukiah, a cowinner of the Actors Theatre of Lou¬ isville's annual Humana Festival's ten-minute play com¬ petition, is set in the dark, cavernous space of an abandoned private airplane hangar. Wilson calls the play a "seduction." Young, powerful, handsome Butch has to coax sixteen-year-old horse feeder Eukiah out of his hiding place in the hangar. Eukiah has gotten it into his head that Butch and his boss are going to burn up all the horses. Butch convinces him to come out with a promise of a full description of Butch's date later that night. Then he breaks Eukiah's neck, because it turns out Butch and his friends really are going to burn up the horses-and Eukiah too. On 26 March 1992, Gus- sow in The New York Times, reviewing that year's Humana Festival at Louisville wrote: "Lanford Wil¬ son's 'Eukiah' is a Faulknerian story about barnburn- ing, with a jolting Wilson twist. Mr. Wilson wastes no words, offering an object lesson in artistic economy to less disciplined peers at this year's festival." In 1995, the Alma Delfina Group in San Fran¬ cisco commissioned the one-act play Your Everyday Ghost Story, a revealing, first-person work addressing death in the age of AIDS and our need for memorialization. The play begins with Lance, a well-known writer, on a park bench. "Lance" is the nickname by which Lanford Wil¬ son has been known to friends and colleagues for more than forty years. As Lance sits, Kevin, a fashion designer, approaches him. Kevin appears to be dying at the begin¬ ning of the play, and at first Lance is reluctant to see Kevin, but he tries to cover his discomfort. Kevin is angry-at Lance and the world, but chiefly here at Lance. He sees Lance as squeamish, selfish, and deliberately uninvolved. Kevin mocks Lance's work ("You can't use it unless it comes out funny") and his useless compassion. Lance sticks with Kevin, despite the insults. Near the end of the play, there is a pause, after the story of Kevin and his lover Peter's failed ethnic-fabrics cloth¬ ing store. In this pause, without any overt change indi¬ cated in the script, Kevin dies, and Lance tells him the story of the memorial service Peter staged. At the end of the play, Lance confesses that all the memorial ser¬ vices just make things worse, they do not help people forget. To which Kevin responds, as he exits, "I think we want very badly for you to remember." Tour Ordinary Ghost Story is a meditation, a "reverie" filled with yearn¬ ings, acknowledgments of human inadequacy before death, and doubts about human achievement. Kevin and Peter's store was beautiful, the product of many years' work, but it opened the "wrong" fashion year and closed two months later-an experience familiar to Wilson from the commercial theatre. What is most impressive is Wilson's relentless honesty about our dis¬ comfort with death. Your Ordinary Ghost Story was selected for the collection The Best American Short Plays 1995-1997. On 12 August 1995, By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea was presented in Wilson's home, Sag Har¬ bor, New York, at the Bay Street Theatre. The produc¬ tion comprised three one-act plays by three well-known playwrights (Wilson, Terrence McNally), and Joe Pin- tauro, presented in a single evening. All three plays are set on the beach and are thus unified by setting. Wil¬ son's Day is funny and emphasizes the sensuality of the sun, waves, and sand. Ace, a relaxed working guy, who works "full time on the days I decide to work" encoun¬ ters Macy, a gorgeous writer, who comes to the beach with her laptop but is lulled by the setting and Ace's refusal to take his work too seriously. When Macy ful¬ fills Ace's fantasy by asking him to "get her back" with suntan lotion, they are interrupted by the arrival of Bill (a mother barking at an unseen child), who is "a little high, strung-out, mental, on a jag." It turns out that Macy and Bill attended Radcliffe at the same time and that Bill, despite her appearance, comes from a wealthy background. Ace, like earlier Wilson characters, has a calling, the sea; he is repairing a boat, and he wants to upgrade. In a typical Wilson twist, it turns out that Ace is a juror on a murder case, and Macy has sought him out to bribe him. Ace's refusal of the bribe and his con¬ tinuing compassion for Bill are the surprising—and richly satisfying-climaxes of the piece. By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea had its New York City premiere at the Manhattan Theatre Club, a major New York nonprofit theatre, in May 1996. In 1996, the Circle Repertory Company dis¬ banded, and for the first time in over a quarter of a cen¬ tury Wilson found himself without a New York City theatrical home. The regional theaters that had helped nurture his career now became the focus in his search for a home theater. Wilson's full-length play Virgil Is Still the Frogboy, directed by Mason, opened at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor on 19 August 1996. As in Day, A Sense of Place is set on the South Fork of Long Island, this time in an East Hampton estate. The cast of charac¬ ters is a group of twenty-somethings, all good-looking. These characters come from the Ivy-League world described by Macy and Bill in Day and know each other from school. Romantic Schuyler, whose father's house the group is occupying, is "old money," loves his friends, and does not need to work. He has invited a group for the summer that includes Josh, a talented Jewish computer geek who makes $6 million online in the first scene of the play, thus setting the stage for the eventual denouement. Josh is a whiz kid who does jobs around the world, but orders-in McDonald's in Paris. Money is key also to the two female friends-Mary, who is setting up her own consulting business, and her friend Ann, a frustrated dancer who works in a clothing store and cooks gourmet meals for the group. Into this mix Mary brings a character from a different world, Chuck, an "easy-going" local carpenter and stud. The first act ends in midsummer with Ann's breakdown over work and a near confrontation between Chuck and Schuyler over the latter's snobbishness. Schuyler wants to preserve the original group of himself, Josh, and Mary. In the second act, Schuyler's dad rents the house to an emir, and the world Schuyler has estab¬ lished with his friends is threatened. As the group packs for their last scene at the summer's end, Wilson brings Ann's crisis of career choices, between dance and cook¬ ing, to a head, as Schuyler urges: "I know everyone with money on the island. The only thing they really enjoy doing is eating. It's the thing they do best." The play ends with a restaurant in-the-making and the group deciding to stay together in a house that Josh will buy. Alvin Klein in The New York Times (25 August 1996), writing of the Sag Harbor production, reads Wil¬ son's reconciliation of opposites as a programmatic statement: "Mr. Wilson crams many concerns into one play, mistaking density for depth and verbal clutter for complexity . . . But he is writing out of ambivalence, a ruling response in life, but an enervating copout on stage." While it is certainly possible t6 question Wil¬ son's potential "happy ending," it is simply incorrect to dismiss the play as a "copout" indeed, it would cer¬ tainly be possible to argue that the seeming plot resolu¬ tion casts an even stronger light on the contradictions of the characters and their society. The New York Times review might have hurt the play's immediate prospects in New York City, but it slowly gained an audience else¬ where; a production at the Ensemble Theatre of Cincin¬ nati received good notices from CityBeat (3-9 May 2001), where Rick Pender concluded: 11A Sense of Place is a fine reminder that, even after 40 years of memorable works for the stage, Lanford Wilson is still the play¬ wright." Coverfor the Playbill for Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1979 play (from Louis Botto, At This Theatre: 100 Years of Broadway Shows, Stories and Stars, 2002; Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina) PLAYBILL BROOKS ATKINSON THEATRE \ Wilson's full-length play Sympathetic Magic was commissioned by Second Stage, a major New York non¬ profit institutional theatre, and one of many assuming the mande of Circle Rep. The play opened at Second Stage 16 April 1997, a production featuring a reunion of three of Circle Repertory Company's founders—Wil¬ son, Mason, and Tanya Berezin. The production was directed by Mason and featured Berezin in the role of Liz, one of Wilson's middle-aged professional/creative women and a worthy successor to D.K. in The Mound Builders, a role that Berezin also originated. Sympathetic Magic, like The Mound Builders and Angels Fall, is set in a world of ideas and intellectual work. Wilson credits sev¬ eral professors in the Dramatists Play Service edition acknowledgments, including astronomers, anthropolo¬ gists, and physicists. The play is set in San Francisco, and it begins with a slide-show lecture by Andy, an astrophysicist, thus linking the piece visually and the- matically to The Mound Builders. Andy is an academic rebel with a postdoc co-worker named Mickey, and Andy is in trouble with his jealous, older department chair, Carl. Liz, the retired radical anthropologist, now losing her sight, has two children by different fathers- Barbara, a notorious sculptress, and Don, an Episcopa¬ lian priest in whom Liz is a bit disappointed. The fam¬ ily's entourage is completed by Pauly, a gay chorus master at Don's church (and sometimes Don's lover), and Sue, Liz's assistant. Andy and Barbara are lovers, and Barbara is having an abortion-a central conflict in the play—because their birth control did not work. By the second act there has been a fistfight between Bar¬ bara and Andy over her abortion. The professional world is fast moving and focused on career activity that excludes inconveniences like babies. Wilson's script calls for a minimalist set and a fluid movement, defined by lights and sound, from scene to scene. Wilson uses the professional world of Sympathetic Magic to revisit some familiar themes. Liz and Barbara are doubles, artist and professional, but both powerful public women in an age in which women are pressing forward. "You've got such muscle and power, being a woman," Liz tells Barbara, "you terrify the shit out of them." Liz and Andy both echo Wilson's standard position on metier and the magic of finding your path. Liz, like Wilson, is concerned with the boundaries of reason, when "litde pustules of inherited behavioral defenses keep popping up." And, like Wil¬ son, she is concerned with capitalism: "Well, today, there are still more people in the world than the rich people need to maintain their wealth." Greed is not the only culprit; the demon of ambition is also present, as often in Wilson, in Carl's seizing of credit for Andy and Mickey's discovery. The abortion issue is treated rawly but without polemics and without the author taking sides, yet at the end, Barbara has clearly traded a baby and a love life for a career. Ben Brantley's New York Times review of Sympathetic Magic (17 April 1997) is respectful to Wilson ("that fine American playwright") but negative about the play: "while 'Magic' has enough evidence of Mr. Wilson's brave artistic ambitions and lyrical dialogue to remind New York audiences of how much he has been missed, the play itself is a pallid, wandering phantom of its author's stronger efforts. Mr. Wilson has traditionally combined metaphysical reach with a very earthy sense of character. Here he floats into a soupy galaxy of abstractions and mechanical plot turns." In a 27 May 1997 review in the gay paper The Advocate, Dick Scanlan lacerated the Second Stage production of Sympathetic Magic, which he claims gives the audience "not a glimpse of the magic in the title." Of the sharply con¬ trasting favorable reviewers, John Simon in New York magazine called Sympathetic Magic "Lanford Wilson's best play yet. He encompasses it all, always landing, however daring the leap, on the balls of his elastic feet. He shies away from nothing, giving you even one of the most complicated and terrifying fights ever." Bames in the New York Fbst added: "Probably not since Tom Stop- pard's Hapgood have we had such a genial course in the foothills of advanced physics as we got this week at the world premiere of Lanford Wilson's Sympathetic Magic. I was distinctly entertained by it, and mightily intrigued." Writing of the later Signature Theatre production in The Nation (24 March 2003), David Kaufman called it Wilson's "most ambitious and certainly his most under¬ rated play." The negative New York Times review of Sympathetic, Magic, however, spelled death to any hopes of an extended run in New York City and meant that Wilson had to look elsewhere to find a home for his next play. Daniels, an actor in many of Wilson's Circle Rep plays, now had his own company, the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Michigan. Daniels commissioned Wilson's Book of Days, set in the rural Missouri of his childhood, and premiered the play at Purple Rose 10 April 1998. The play is set in the town of Dublin, Missouri, a "quiet, wide awake, prosperous" farm and dairy town, shrewd and churchgoing, and the county seat of Cho¬ sen County. The play thus plays ironically in its very naming with the towns aspirations to holiness and what is hidden beneath the surface of a "god-fearing" town. In Book of Days, twelve characters double as a chorus that emphasizes the regular passage of time against which key events transpire: a play production of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan at the local theatre, a conflict over cheese (and pride) on a family dairy farm, a conflict at a local church and two murders. The man who gets away with murder, one of Wilson's destruc¬ tive heterosexual men, is James Bates, the son of absen¬ tee dairy farmer Walt Bates and his wife Sharon. Walt Bates is the wealthiest and hence "most upright" citizen of Dublin. Among the twelve are Len Hoch, an earnest manager who wants to produce good cheese responsi¬ bly; his wife, bookkeeper Ruth Hoch; Len's mother Martha Hoch, a middle-aged female firebrand; James's manipulative wife Luann; his buddy and coconspirator in the murder of Walt, Earl Hill, who becomes the vic¬ tim of the second murder, when it is necessary to shut his mouth. There is also a Los Angeles/New York direc¬ tor named Boyd, who comes to town to direct Saint Joan with the local community theatre, his assistant Ginger, and two town authority figures, Reverend Bobby Graves, a shrewd politician who manipulates his parish¬ ioners and chooses his battles, and Sheriff Conroy Atkins. As in many other Wilson plays, the action is both narrated and enacted, and there are direct addresses to the audience. The episodic forward movement gives the play a sense of tragic inevitability. Book of Days is a deeply pessimistic work, a heartrending vision of what has become of the American promise. The play, per¬ haps the best of all Wilson's Missouri plays, contrasts the lyrically evoked beauty of Dublin, Missouri, with the darkness in men's hearts. It belongs in the long line of Wilson's heartland poems that include early plays This Is The Rill Speaking and The Rimers of Eldritch. In Book of Days there are no escapes and no happy endings, just a reassertion of murderous stasis and hypocritical greed. Wilson does not appear to think that all is well in the heartland. The Purple Rose production of Book of Days was awarded The American Theatre Critics Award for Best New Play of the 1997-1998 Season, as well as the Detroit Free Press annual award for Best Play. The Detroit Free Press had praised the play as: "Lively Storytelling by One of Our Best Playwrights." The production gar¬ nered Purple Rose an award from the Michigan Allied Professional Theatre Awards for Outstanding Achieve¬ ment and Outstanding Theatre in the same year. Writ¬ ing in American Theatre (1 November 1998), Chris Jones calls Wilson: "one of the top figures in modern Ameri¬ can drama for 30 years," who "stages a comeback to the theater scene with his new play 'Book of Days'" Kenneth Jones in Back Stage (1 May 1998), however, saw the Purple Rose production of Book of Days as "a cluttered mess." In the fall of 1999, Book of Days was restaged in St. Louis in a production directed by Mason and produced by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and the Hartford Stage Company. Writing in the Hud¬ son Review spring 2003 issue, Richard Hornsby described Book of Days as a play about a "miscarriage of justice." Hornsby comments on Wilson's "graceful" use of the choral device, and its effectiveness in portraying the town's hypocrisy. The use of metatheatrical devices to emphasize moments is also noted: "when Walt's wife breaks down on hearing of Walt's death; the actress in the role refuses to play the scene, requiring another actress to fill in temporarily." Purple Rose also commissioned Wilson's next play, Rain Dance, which opened 19 January 2001. The production garnered a nomination from the American Theatre Critics Association for Best New Play and a Detroit Free Press Theatre Excellence Award. Set in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1945, on the eve of the first atomic bomb test, the play moves through a single con¬ tinuous action with four characters, Hank, Tony, Irene, and Peter, whose connection with the top-secret Man¬ hattan Project is only slowly revealed. Wilson plays up the hopes and aspirations of the four characters against the audience's knowledge of what is to come. Tony is an Indian from the local village who had a career as an Indian dancer in Le Tumulte Mir, the Paris jazz age of the 1920s. The dances he and his group performed were "sacrilegious" but made them stars. Peter is one of the Los Alamos scientists, an escapee from Europe with his wife, Irene, who has adopted the customs of the local Native Americans. She has also adopted Tony as a lover, although she maintains an open relationship with Peter. Hank is an emotional lightning rod, attracted to the Indians, attracted to the scientists, naive and horri¬ fied by what is to happen. He refuses to attend the final test; the others leave to watch as the curtain falls. Wilson has stressed the intimate, personal focus of Rain Dance despite the historical backdrop: "I seem to be doing this more and more—writing very very small plays that are about huge things. But this one is a delib¬ erately very small play about one of the most important things that's happened to mankind." He puts the audi¬ ence into the uncomfortable place of the workers and movers of the atomic bomb, sharing their exhilaration and concern. In the process Wilson expresses the ambi¬ guity of the situation: Tony wants the bomb, which will save the lives of his villagers fighting in the Pacific, to be successfully developed. As in Book if Days the beauty and spirituality of the land is contrasted with the greed of some of its human occupants. In 2001, Wilson won the Edith Oliver Award for Sustained Excellence presented by the Lucille Lortel Foundation. On 11 November 2001, his translation of Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts, directed by Mason, opened in Tucson at the Arizona Theatre Company, which had commissioned the work. Wilson's version of Ibsen's controversial 1881 tragedy linked the play's concern about sexually transmitted disease with the 9/11 trag¬ edy in New York. In a 9 September 2002 Theatrema- nia.com interview by Brian Scott Lipton, Wilson states: "I am one of the 11.5°/o of New Yorkers who remain traumatized by the events of September 11.1 have lived here for 35 years and I never, ever felt unsafe in this city. But when I came back into the city for the first time last November, I thought every truck, every build¬ ing was going to blow up. It has truly changed me something fierce." The Arizona Daily Star called Wilson's Ghosts "a crisp, clean and often lyrical translation." A year later, Wilson's translation of Ghosts had its New York City premiere on 1 November 2002 at the respected Classic Stage Company. Brantley's predict¬ ably negative review of this production in The New York Times (11 November 2002) largely ignores Wilson's translation, which it called both "easygoing" and "stiff." During the 2002-2003 theatrical season in New York, The Signature Theatre, a company that each year devotes a full season to the works of a single playwright (previous seasons have celebrated the works of Edward Albee, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, John Guare, and Paula Vogel), presented a selection of Wilson's plays. "It's long overdue for Lanford," Signature Artistic James Houghton told Gussow in a New York Times inter¬ view on 15 September 2002, prefatory to the opening of the Signature production of Burn This. Yet, the Signature season did not regain Wilson his earlier prestige. His skills in creating memorable characters were now criti¬ cized as cliches, as in the review of Burn This by Stefan Kanfer in the New Leader (November/December 2002): "the strength of his play lies in the complex, highly indi¬ vidual characters he puts on-stage. . . . The trouble is, their expression provides an excess of surface, and very litde substance. For beneath the smart chatter and the yearning silences is a very dated and often cliched struc¬ ture." Not all reviews were as negative; David Kauf¬ man, writing in The Nation (24 March 2003), praised the Signature Theatre's "eye-opening revival of Burn This and saved special praise for the company's extended production of 5th of July. Kaufman compares Wilson to Chekhov, noting that: "Like the great Russian play¬ wright, Wilson achieves his exposition via circling insin¬ uations that come to resemble utterly natural discourse." The Signature Theatre's Wilson season also fea¬ tured the New York City premiere of Book of Days and Rain Dance, both of which were reviewed by Brantley in The New York Times. Though the review of Book of Days (4 November 2002) began dismissively ("Ready for another field trip to Grover's Corners?"), Brantley applauded Wilson's portrait of "what has happened to [America's] towns during the last half-century," yet he ended on a sour note: "Most Wilson works are filled with such sparks of individual life. Only the occasional flicker illuminates Book of Days." Brandey seemed, for once, more genuinely impressed with Rain Dance: "In the play's silences," he wrote on 21 May 2003, "you do indeed sense the cold loneliness of life perceiving its possible extinction." Brantley praised the anger of the play, although he was at times ambivalent about Wilson's execution. In his most thought-provoking criticism, Brant¬ ley wrote: "In focusing on four souls on the periphery of the test, Mr. Wilson tries to humanize such terrifying sentiments. He is most successful when things remain unspoken, when dialogue skirts the momentous central issue instead of landing squarely on it. And there is throughout 'Rain Dance' a truly thought-provoking sense of the Manhattan Project as an inevitable exten¬ sion of the world in which its characters live." Wilson's work cannot usually be read success¬ fully by purely realistic standards. He is too conscious of the audience, too conscious of the elements he is using. He is making art, not reality or the illusion of reality, no matter how painfully realistic the surface. His work ultimately focuses on the different dangers of sta¬ sis and risk in human relations and society and has taken many dramatic forms. Wilson has reflected on the evolution of his work from large-scale canvases like Balm in Gilead to the small-cast intimate dramas of Tal¬ ly's Folly, Redwood Curtain, and Rain Dance: "When I first started writing plays, I said, 'Theatre should be a three-ring circus.' I wanted a lot of people, all talking at once, creating life on the stage. After we formed the Circle Company, I became more responsible to the actor. I wanted to write deep, fully rounded people, beautiful language, roles an actor could sink his teeth into. The craft became less flamboyant, more subde." Looking over the vista of Wilson's playwriting career to date, one is struck by his insistence on simply "telling it like it is." In his 15 September 2002 New York Times interview, Gussow noted that in Wilson's book-lined Sag Harbor study, there is a sign reading: "You're only telling the story of what happened to these people-and then what happened was ..." Like Chekhov, with whom he is now often compared, Wilson captures the heartbreaking moment, the snapshot of a place, a town, a group of people, a couple. This realistic, sometimes pessimistic, vision of America gives Wilson's plays the quality of luminous slide shows set to a dramatic music that defines that place and time. Lanford Wilson served on the 2006 Tony Awards committee and the Council of the Dramatists Guild. He has taught at the University of Houston School of The¬ atre since 2004. He is famously frank about personal anxieties and idiosyncrasies—he does not take airplanes, still smokes Lucky Strikes, and is afraid of knives, heights, and machines. Wilson attributes his anxieties to recognition and a feeling of unworthiness, but it also seems true that these very anxieties inform Wilson's acute sense of risk and his understanding of the difficul¬ ties of transformation. He is a brave artist, who con¬ quers his phobias by making theatre of them. Interviews: Gene A. Barnett, "Re-creating the Magic: An Interview with Lanford Wilson," Ball State University Forum, 25 (Spring 1984): 57-74; Esther Harriott, "To Vanish without a Trace," American Voices: Five Contemporary Playwrights in Essays and Interviews (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1988), pp. 36-58; David Savran, In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988), pp. 308-320; John L. DiGaetani, A Searchfor a fbstmodern Theatre: Inter¬ views with Contemporary Playwrights, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), pp. 286-293; John C. Tibbets, "An Interview with Lanford Wilson," in Journal of Dramatic Theory & Criticism, 5 (Spring 1991): 175-180; J. Dakota Powell, "Elements of Craft: Conversations with Wilson and Shanley," Dramatist Guild Quar¬ terly, 32 (Summer 1995): 27-30; Jackson R. Bryer, "Lanford Wilson," in The Playwright's Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Drama¬ tists, edited by Bryer, (New Brunswick, NJ.: Rut¬ gers University Press, 1995), pp. 277-296. Bibliography: Kimball King, Ten Modern American Playwrights: An Anno¬ tated Bibliography (New York: Garland, 1982). References: Gene A. Barnett, Lanford Wilson (Boston: Twayne, 1987); Louis Botto, At "This Theatre: 100 Tears of Broadway Shows, Stories and Stars, edited by Robert Viagas (New York: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2002); Jackson R. Bryer, Lanford Wilson: A Casebook (New York: Garland, 1994); Mark Busby, Lanford Wilson (Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1987); David Allison Crespy, Albarwild's Nexus of New Play Development: The Playwright Unit, 1963 to 1971 (New York: City University of New York, 1998); Anne Dean, Discovery and Invention: The Urban Plays of Lanford Wilson (Rutherford, Pa.: Fairleigh Dickin¬ son University Press, 1994); Larry Fink, "From Madness to The Cosmos: Gay/Lesbian Characters in the Plays of Lanford Wilson," Jour¬ nal of American Drama and Theatre, 7 (1995): 57-65; William Herman, Understanding Contemporary American Drama (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987); Kimball King, ed., Modern Dramatists: A Casebook of Major British, Irish, and American Playwrights (New York: Roudedge, 2001); Matthew Roudane, American Drama Since 1960: A Critical History (New York: Twayne: 1997); Henry I. Schvey, "Images of the Past in the Plays of Lanford Wilson," in Essays on Contemporary Ameri¬ can Drama, edited by Hedwig Bock and Albert Wertheim (Munich: Max Hueber Verlag, 1981), pp. 225-240; Philip Middleton Williams, A Comfortable House: Lanford Wilson, Marshall W. Mason and the Circle Repertory Theatre (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1993). Papers: The Theatre Collection of the New York Public Library Performing Arts Research Center has a clippings file dealing with Lanford Wilson's career. Information on the author can also be found in several collections in the Billy Rose Theatre Archive there: Circle Repertory Records, 1965-1996; Lortel (Lucille) Papers, 1902- 2000; Gossage (James) Photographs, 1965-1975; Patrick (Robert) Papers, circa 1940-1984; Barr (Rich- ard)-Clinton Wilder Papers, 1935-1982.