Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Leonard, Richard L. (Professor of theatre arts)

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Theatre Arts


Wilson; Lanford; 1937---Criticism and interpretation


Reviewers and literary critics for America's periodicals have labeled Lanford Wilson one of the finest playwrights America has produced in the last ten years. A leader in the Off-Broadway theatre movement, he has contributed over thirty plays from 1963 to 1982. Wilson earned awards for The Rimers of Eldritch, The Hot 1 Baltimore, The Mound Builders, and 5th of July, and has a Pulitzer Prize for Talley's Folly. This study examines twelve representative plays by Lanford Wilson and the initial critical reception of these plays. Reviews and critiques of these plays are delineated to determine any patterns and developments in Wilson's writing. The means used to measure these factors are major New York reviews and critiques written for the premiere performances of each of the twelve plays. The publications used are America, Commonweal, Harper's Magazine, The Nation, The New Yorker, Newsweek, Saturday Review, Time, U.S. News & World Report, The Village Voice, Horizon, The Christian Science Monitor, New York Daily News, New York Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Women's Wear Daily, and selected reviews from NBC 4 TV, WABC TV7, WCBS TV2. Wilson's eminence as a contemporary American playwright came after much trial and error. According to critics, his early plays display the experimental qualities frequently witnessed in novice writers. Early reviews comment on the potential of the young Mr. Wilson, but admit to his lack of focus in regard to structure, the lack of universality in his themes and conflicts, but, nonetheless, the natural appeal of his characters. Foremost, Wilson's inherent talent for imaginative, creative language highlighted the positive critiques given to his early works. The twelve plays were found to demonstrate different characteristics of Wilson's writing. His characters have stemmed from a variety of American locales, and have been created as distinct individuals. Precluding any flaw in this characteristic of his playwriting, Wilson is extolled as writing appropriate, while poetic, language for his characters. W1lson writes on empathic themes of love, loneliness, the lost and forgotten, and of rejuvenation, optimism, and buoyancy. His conflicts epitomize the most human sides of humanity, while capturing the universal qualities of mankind. This study encapsulates the craft of Lanford Wilson and determines what his critics have accepted and rejected in his writing. The deterrents to Wilson's appeal are cited, as are the reasons for his commendations.


Includes bibliographical references.


134 pages




Northern Illinois University

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