Jack Viertel offers a fond, and self-effacing, reminiscence.
Lanford Wilson, who died on March 24, gave me my first real lesson in dramaturgy. He did it with a characteristic mix of gentleness and anger, masking hurt with pride and wit. And he did it, as he so often did back in the ’80s, with a drink in his hand.
This was in Los Angeles in 1987, where he was working on rewrites for his play “Burn This,” which was in previews at the Mark Taper Forum. I was a young, ignorant staff dramaturge [sic!*] at the Taper, and he was, well, Lanford Wilson – my hero. I was expounding, pretentiously, no doubt, on some line of dialogue in his play, and he was staring at me with a look that I later came to recognize as veiled incredulity. Finally I must have overstepped my bounds. He drained all but the last swallow of a margarita, and then reared back and aimed the glass at my head.
He didn’t throw it, however. He just held it in place like a man who was wondering whether to let fly or not. Then he said, rather gently, “When speaking to a playwright you care about about his work, find a word other than ‘cliché.’ ” Then he drained the last swallow and put the glass down on the table and we moved on.
Chastened, I realized that pontificating to him about his play might be a genuinely stupid way to try to help. So I asked him what his preferred method of getting notes would be.
“On paper,” he said. “That way I can pin them to the wall and throw darts at them until I’m actually ready to read them. I never know when that will be.”
*NY Times still considers "dramaturg" too Germanic a spelling apparently, preferring a form of the word nobody, in any language, currently uses.