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A.R. Gurney, Author of Love Letters and Sylvia, Dies at 86

Gurney wrote more than 40 plays. logo
Playwright A.R. Gurney has died at 86.
(© David Gordon)

A.R. Gurney, a prolific playwright and New York theater mainstay, has died at the age of 86.

Born in Buffalo, New York, in 1930, Gurney graduated from Williams College in 1952 and served as an officer in the Navy before attending Yale School of Drama. After his graduation in 1959, Gurney taught English and Latin at the Belmont Hill School in Massachusetts, before joining the staff of Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a professor of humanities, and later, a professor of literature. He worked at the university from 1960 to 1996, according to the Yale University's archive of his papers.

As a playwright, Gurney made his off-Broadway debut with The David Show, which ran one night in October 1968. Among his more successful works are Children, The Middle Ages, The Dining Room, The Cocktail Hour, Sylvia, and Love Letters, which was a finalist for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

After a checkered Broadway career which saw relatively short stays of his works Sweet Sue and The Golden Age, Gurney was excited by the prospect of recent Broadway revivals of Love Letters and Sylvia. "I've had a couple of plays on Broadway, but not as many as I'd like," Gurney told TheaterMania in 2014. But rarely did he go to rehearsals. "It's all being done by people about the age of my grandchildren, and I don't want to lean on them too much," he added. "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?"

All told, Gurney wrote more than 45 plays, three novels, as well as several libretti for operas and musicals. In his later years, Gurney worked extensively with off-Broadway's Signature and Flea Theatres, both of which produced his final plays. Love & Money was seen at Signature in 2015 as part of a residency devoted to his work (it also produced The Wayside Motor Inn and What I Did Last Summer), while two one-acts, Ajax and Squash, were seen at the Flea in October 2016.

In 2011, Gurney received an honorary Drama Desk Award "for his enduring, keenly observed portraits of American life over a prolific four-decade-long career." He also received a Drama Desk Award in 1971 for Scenes From an American Marriage.

Gurney, who went by the nickname "Pete," is survived by his wife, Molly, whom he married in 1957, as well as their four children, eight grandchildren, an older sister, and a younger brother.


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