Play­wright who ex­plored a van­ish­ing Amer­ica

A.R. GUR­NEY

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - as­so­ci­ated press news.obits@la­times.com

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.

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