Leading playwrights examine Wilder’s influence on theater

Students, faculty and other enthused intellectuals gathered for a lecture titled “Playwrights on Wilder,” on Oct. 3. Sharing in this exaltation of Thornton Wilder’s works were four contemporary playwrights whom the audience observed with fascinated silence as Tina Howe, Donald Margulies, Lee Blessing and Edward Albee approached the stage of the Mildred and Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall.

Despite the veneration demanded by these theatrical giants, the speakers were highly interactive and cordial to the audience. When questioned about Wilder’s influence on a work, each writer had a story to tell.

Albee, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and writer of the Tony Award-winning “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” recounted his personal relationship with Wilder. Albee’s humorous account of himself as a young, aspiring writer sharing his poetry and bottle of bourbon with the famed playwright produced more than a few chuckles from the audience.

Margulies, the Pulitzer Prize-winner for his work “Dinner with Friends,” discussed his initial exposure to Wilder, what he called “a very bad school production of ‘Our Town.'” With his exposure to better productions, he grew a greater appreciation and insight into the work.

Howe and Blessing surprised the audience when they announced their fascination with Wilder’s works had only recently emerged. Howe, writer of the acclaimed “Coastal Disturbances,” described her epiphany two days prior to the conference as she read Wilder’s “Our Town” for the first time. “I realized that Wilder is my influence, but I’d never read him before,” Howe said.

The discussion was concluded by a brief Q-and-A session. When asked how he incorporated Wilder’s work into his own, Albee replied, “There aren’t many playwrights that can involve you in the motion you’re describing . the influence is there to help you find your own way.”

Judging by the success of these four individuals, Wilder’s plays have done just that.