Playwright who explored a vanishing America
Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright A.R. Gurney, whose work offered a window into the inner lives of the upper-crust white AngloSaxon Protestants he grew up among, has died at 86.
Gurney’s agent Jonathan Lomma said the playwright died Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. No cause of death was given.
Among his more wellknown works are “The Dining Room,” for which he was named a Pulitzer finalist for drama in 1985; “Love Letters,” which earned a Pulitzer finalist nod in 1990; and “The Cocktail Hour.”
He was a prolific writer, producing almost 50 plays during his career along with a number of musicals and three novels.
“Love Letters” charts the lives of a man and a woman — lifelong friends with a romantic connection that never quite gets to thrive — through the correspondence they exchange over half a century.
Poignant, arch and artful in both what’s said and what’s left unsaid, it ranges from thank-you notes and wedding invitations to heartfelt letters. One perceptively funny scene lampoons the rose-colored-glasses tone of a family Christmas newsletter.
“Love Letters” was first done at the New York Public Library in March 1988, with Holland Taylor and Gurney himself reading the play.
The two-person play has been performed by powerhouse acting duos including Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal, Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy, and Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones.
Gurney, in a 1998 interview with The Times, said of his penchant for writing about a fading WASP world, “I’ve been occasionally nailed by the critics for limiting my sights to a small entity, but I’ve always believed that if you’re accurate and true to what you’re writing about, the play will have a larger human dimension. “People are people.” Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Gurney is survived by his wife, four children, eight grandchildren, and a brother and sister.