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Playwright Who Helped Propel Chicago’s Steppenwolf Dies

(credit: blog.steppenwolf.org)

(credit: blog.steppenwolf.org)

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CHICAGO (WBBM) — Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson has died.

He was 73.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports

Mr. Wilson’s death, at a long-term acute-care facility in Wayne, N.J., coincided with the first night of previews locally by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Wilson’s breakthrough 1973 success, “The Hot L Baltimore.”

Ensemble members and director Tina Landau asked for a moment of silence at the conclusion of the performance. 

The play is to open Tuesday and run through May 29.

The playwright was born in Lebanon, Mo., and was a long time resident of New York’s Sag Harbor.  His Missouri roots were the basis for a trilogy of plays, including “Talley’s Folly,” which won him the 1980 Pulitzer for drama. 

Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey said that Mr. Wilson’s play “Balm of Gilead” vaulted Steppenwolf to national prominence.

“The way that ‘Balm’ captured the lives of nobodies, the forgotten and the overlooked, the marginal and the disdained, and gave them their own vividness and humanity helped define the voice of Steppenwolf,” she said. 

Lavey said that Steppenwolf always considered Mr. Wilson “one of its own.” 

Crawford said that, despite his deteriorating health, Mr. Wilson had been in touch with Steppenwolf and the ensemble, and had been “rooting” for the production.  Crawford said that Landau informed the cast of Mr. Wilson’s passing at the beginning of afternoon rehearsals Thursday. 

The play follows the lives of residents of a condemned residential hotel who have just been told that they have one month to move out. 

Mr. Wilson was one of four founders of The Circle Repertory Company in New York, an incubator of important off-Broadway works.  He was nominated for Tony Awards for “Angels Fall,” “Talley’s Folly” and “Fifth of July.”