Playwriting

Lanford Wilson

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 it. – Burn This

Lanford Wilson passed away last week. And while I haven’t read a Wilson play in a long time, two of his works were extremely influential to me as a young writer. Burn This (1987) and Lemon Sky (1970) I read and re-read both these plays so much I’m know their styles and their rhythms wormed their way into my sub-conscious writing methodology.

I actually saw Lemon Sky as a play, on television – there’s a PBS (maybe? Long time ago) version that started Kevin Bacon. The play is past and present and overlapping dialogue and talking to the audience, and family pain. I have distinct memory that the dialogue made me SIT UP. You know when you see something and it just makes your spine grow twice in size? When you recognize a way of writing (or singing, or painting, or making movies or whatever floats by) that speaks in such a way that you realize something quite similar has been in your head, and maybe that thing is not so crazy after all. That’s a remarkable feeling.

Burn This, I have never seen, only read. At this point, I’m not sure I want to, I have such a sound memory etched into my brain. The sound of the dialogue in Burn This just leapt off the page for me. It was so alive I could see the rhythm bouncing in every line of type, the play was all rhythm. It was one of the few plays I’ve ever read (aside from Mamet) where I really believed in the swearing. These characters HAD to swear. And there’s a lot of swearing. But again it was a play that made me SIT UP. I read it so much the cover got worn. I read it so much I copied sections of dialogue into my diary. When I think about writing in a rhythm, it is the dialogue from this play (and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but that’s another story) that comes to mind.

I found this short Dramatist Guild video between Lanford Wilson and Craig Lucas where Wilson talks about the hardest part of writing a play. Enjoy.

About the author

Lindsay Price

4 Comments

  • I came of age with Mr. Wilson. When I heard the news of his passing, I took out Balm in Gilead and all of his plays (priced then at about $1.00 – I keep his plays forever) and read all night, sighing, “yes.” I know those people. “Yes” that’s how people speak. The Circle in the Village was a remarkable place. A playwright/director partnership is such a boon to the theatre’s collaborative process. Wilson was fortunate to have that – but it does not take away from his huge talent.

  • Hi Lindsay,
    The video you linked is no longer working, but I tracked the same video down on the Dramatist Guild’s website. You may go to this link and choose the video from the list on the right side. Thanks for sharing. http://wn.com/Dramatists_Guild