For Lanford Wilson, The Plays Were Always Personal The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, whose career-long collaboration with director Marshall Mason gave us plays including Fifth of July and Talley's Folly, died March 24 at the age of 73.
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For Lanford Wilson, The Plays Were Always Personal

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For Lanford Wilson, The Plays Were Always Personal

For Lanford Wilson, The Plays Were Always Personal

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Jeff Lunden offers this appreciation.

JEFF LUNDEN: In Lanford Wilson's 1986 play "Burn This," a choreographer and a writer are talking about their work.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "BURN THIS")

LUNDEN: (As character) And I think it's all getting a little too personal.

LUNDEN: (As character) Good. It's supposed to be. Make it as personal as you can. Believe me, you can't imagine a feeling everyone hasn't had. Make it personal, tell the truth, and then write burn this on the bottom.

LUNDEN: Lanford Wilson's work was always personal, whether he was writing about characters from his native Missouri or the prostitutes and junkies in the greasy spoon across the street from his New York apartment. That coffee shop became the setting for his first major success, in 1965, he told NPR.

BLOCK: The coffee shop downstairs is the coffee shop in "Balm in Gilead." And I was just amazed by the place. And I just took dictation, page after page after page.

LUNDEN: Wilson said he then showed the play to a young director named Marshall Mason.

BLOCK: He read "Balm in Gilead" and said, you're going to need a good director. And he was talking about himself. And I thought he meant, you know, to save it. And, finally, we got together on it, and he sat down to talk about it, and he told me - for four hours - every single thing that's in that play.

LUNDEN: New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley says Wilson's plays always have a vitality to them and juicy parts for actors.

BLOCK: At the same time, he harked back to the era of more sentimental plays, of portraits of losers on the margins of life.

LUNDEN: Among the actors who made a mark in original productions of Wilson's plays were Judd Hirsch, Swoosie Kurtz, Christopher Reeve and John Malkovich, all of them directed by Marshall Mason. In 2002, Mason described his working process with Lanford Wilson.

BLOCK: So he waits for his own imagination to unfold, and I wait patiently with him.

LUNDEN: And often, that took a while, Wilson told NPR.

BLOCK: Sometimes, I'm annoyed at something and start writing and, you know, and then someone says, oh shut up, and I have two points of view. And sometimes, I couldn't tell you where they came from.

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

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