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Playwright A.R. Gurney on Returning to His Plays The Wayside Motor Inn and Love Letters

The 83-year-old dramatist prepares for a big fall season, and an even bigger year.

A.R. Gurney is the author of The Wayside Motor Inn and Love Letters, both of which are receiving New York revivals this fall.
(© David Gordon)

Prolific playwright A.R. Gurney has a busy year ahead of him. The 83-year-old author of plays including The Cocktail Hour and The Dining Room is preparing for two major revivals of his work. The first, currently in previews, is Signature Theatre Company's production of his rarely seen 1977 drama, The Wayside Motor Inn. The second, beginning performances September 13, is the star-studded Broadway revival of Love Letters at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. And that's not all. Wayside begins a yearlong playwright-in-residence tenure for Gurney at Signature, which will also produce a revival of his 1982 play What I Did Last Summer and a new play, the title of which has yet to be announced.

Until now, that is. Gurney happily let the title slip in a phone conversation with TheaterMania, during which he discussed his many projects as well as his seeming inability, despite occasional protestations, to slow down.

What was your reaction when you found out Signature had chosen you for a three-play residency?
I was very excited. Very pleased. I've gone to a lot of plays there and frankly, I wasn't sure why they hadn't asked me before. [laughs]

Did you come to them armed with plays of yours that you would have liked to see revived, or did they tell you which ones they wanted?
The latter. Both of those plays, The Wayside Motor Inn and What I Did Last Summer, have rather checkered careers in New York — originally. I didn't think those plays would quite stand up, and I came with other suggestions. But [Artistic Director] Jim Houghton and his staff made the arguments, and I listened to them carefully and said let's give it a try.

Were you responding to anything in particular when you wrote Wayside in 1979?
The seventies was a very tormented decade, and a lot of things were being challenged. I was trying, in my youthful hubris, to put many of those issues into a play. I found the idea of a motel, and then the form of having five or six plots going on simultaneously in one room, interested me. The British were already experimenting in this direction — Alan Ayckbourn was doing it — finding different ways to tell a story onstage. I had a great time writing the play. It was produced at the Manhattan Theatre Club…But I don't think the audience or the critics thought it was as brilliant a play as I thought it was. We did our four-week run and I enjoyed doing it, but I have to tell you, today's generation, both the actors and the technical people, are more in tune with the issues in the play than the original cast was.

Playwrights aren't always involved with revivals of their work. How involved are you?
I don't go to many rehearsals because it's all being done by people about the age of my grandchildren, and I don't want to lean on them too much. But when I have seen a rehearsal and have been able to look at and listen to the play, it's very surprising for me. I say to myself, Did I write that? Was I thinking that way at the time?

You've got a brand-new play coming our way, as well?
Yeah. Jim Houghton said, "For the third, I want you to do a new play." I said, "I'm eighty-three years old. I don't have a new play in me." He said, "I think you can do it," so I did. I wrote one and I wrote it rather quickly. I think Mark Lamos is going to direct it. We're doing it toward the end of 2015. I'll give you the title: Love and Money.

There's a Broadway revival of Love Letters on the horizon, too. Of all the great actors in its rotating cast, who are you most excited about?
Well, I like 'em all. Some of them have done it before. Carol Burnett has done it a lot, but never on the East Coast, I think. Mia Farrow has done it in Connecticut, but I've never seen her do it. That play never ceases to amaze me, how different actors pick it up in different ways.

And it brings you back to Broadway.
Well, I've never been there before, really. I've had a couple of plays on Broadway, but not as many as I'd like. [I] can't help but be excited. [pause] It's exciting financially, too. [laughs]