Christopher Durang, Beloved Playwright of Dark Comedic Farces, Dies at 75

The Tony-winning writer was diagnosed with aphasia in 2016.

Christopher Durang (1)
Christopher Durang
(© David Gordon)

Tony Award-winning playwright Christopher Durang has died at the age of 75, according to The New York Times. Durang was diagnosed with a form of dementia, called logopenic primary progressive aphasia, in 2016.

A masterful writer of black comedy and satire, Durang was born and raised in New Jersey. As a young theater artist, his early influences were dark farces like Arthur Kopit’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. Recurring themes in Durang’s works include familial narcissism, fear, abuse, and sexual identity.

“I have always felt irrationally at home in Chris’ world,” Durang’s frequent collaborator, actor Sigourney Weaver, told TheaterMania in 2012 upon the off-Broadway premiere of Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. The pair met in a singing class at Yale School of Drama and worked together on multiple works by Durang, including Das Lusitania Songspiel, Sex and Longing, Titanic, and Vanya, which would transfer to Broadway and earn Durang the Tony for Best Play.

Durang shot to fame with 1979’s Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, which earned him an Obie at age 32, and he followed that in rapid succession with iconic titles like Beyond Therapy, The Actor’s Nightmare, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, and Laughing Wild. He was a Pulitzer finalist for Miss Witherspoon.

More recent works by Durang include the 2009 comedy Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them and Turning Off the Morning News, which premiered in 2018 at the McCarter Theatre. To this point, that would mark his last produced completely new work in his lifetime, though a further play, Harriet and Other Horrible People, has not yet reached the stage.

With Marsha Norman, Durang co-ran the playwriting division of Juilliard; he retired in 2016 as he withdrew from public life. His only immediate survivor is his husband, John Augustine.

A reunion reading of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, led by original stars Weaver, Kristine Nielsen, and David Hyde Pierce, will take place on May 7, as the annual gala for Lincoln Center Theater, which produced the original New York production.