I have so many fond memories of Lanford when he and I ran round looking for 'outsider' art in Soho; when I had the pleasure of reading "I'm Not the Ocean" when it came directly off the typewriter, when he saw my FLOWERS OUT OF SEASON which premiered in the Circle Rep Lab, and a couple years later he came to see my THE MOON AWAY when it premiered at The Greenwich House Theatre. And there are other great memories; an Indian dinner, some drinks, long talks, but never about the theatre. His plays were an inspiration, especially LEMON SKY (it reminded me so much of my own coming of age) and he will prove to endure. I began my playwriting career at the Circle Rep where Lanford was one of its founders. Although I did not know him well, I knew him well enough to know that not only was he a great writer, he was a rare gentleman. Rest in peace, my friend.
My first professional audition was in LA for the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. I did a piece from "Lemon Sky." Did not get the part, but was hired as the Stage Manager and had the unholy duty of understudying 6 male parts. Trial by fire. One of the young actors in the show went on to be one of the biggest stars on television. One guy went on to start Recording Books. One woman committed suicide a few years later. One actor, I met in NYC 20 years later. Halfway through the evening having dinner at his and his wife's apartment, I said, "Hey, now I know where I know you from! " Small world is the theatre world.
And the first play I saw in NYC was "Hot L Baltimore" downtown at Circle in the Square. WOW! What a play and a great cast of actors in that production. Steppenwolf is doing Hot L Baltimore right now. Not only did Circle Rep have terrific writers, but terrific actors. A perfect confluence.
Didn't care for "Burn This" but John Malkovich gave a brilliant performance that was beyond unforgettable. And Joan Allen was terrific enough to let him have his head. The night I and my girlfriend at the time saw it, you could almost see her looking on in admiration at him with an inner smile. Like two terrific musicians jamming on a great night.
"Rimers of Eldrich" - beautiful play. Even a community theatre production I saw was brilliant. And if a community theatre can't screw up a play, that says a lot! Flawless writing.
"Talley's Folley" saw at Circle Rep and it has one of the best lines ever written in the American Theatre: "There's Manhattan and a few small neighborhoods in Boston. The rest is the South."
I did not like "Angel's Fall" on Broadway, despite the always brilliant Fritz Weaver. But I saw it years later in a college production and it deeply affected me. Maybe I wasn't ready for it the first time.
Oddly, the play I liked the least is his most popular, "The Fifth of July." Saw it on Broadway with an unforgettable cast, but I still did not care for it.
Lanford Wilson's writing is a gift to the theatre. As much as Williams and Albee and Miller and O'Neill. He wrote everything. Large casts, small casts. Poetic. Realistic. A huge range of writing abilities.
Thank you, Lanford Wilson. You will not be missed because you left so much of yourself with us to love.