AR Gurney, Playwright of Theater Staple ‘Love Letters,’ Dies at 86

The Buffalo native’s works chronicled the decline of the WASP society

Last Updated: June 14, 2017 @ 3:44 PM

Playwright A.R. Gurney, whose works chronicled the decline of WASP society in the late 20th century, died Tuesday at age 86.

The writer, who may be best known for his oft-produced two-character play “Love Letters,” died at his home in Manhattan, his agent Jonathan Lomma told the New York Times.

The Buffalo native wrote nearly 50 plays, and four were produced on Broadway.

The most recent was “Sylvia,” a 1995 comedy about a dog and her owner that was revived on the Great White Way in 2015 in a production starring Analeigh Ashford (as the canine, Sylvia), Matthew Broderick and Julia White. (Sarah Jessica Parker originated the role of Sylvia.)

Gurney made his Broadway debut in 1987 with “Sweet Sue,” starring Mary Tyler Moore as a middle-aged woman who falls for her son’s college roommate.

He returned two years later with “Love Letters,” a Pulitzer finalist that consisted of two actors (Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst in the original production) sitting on stage reciting their letters to each other over decades. One is a prim-and-proper guy who becomes a U.S. senator and the other a free-spirited woman who dabbles in a bit of everything over the years.

The show became a staple of theaters nationwide and was revived on Broadway in 2014 with a rotating cast of stars that included Mia Farrow, Brian Dennehy, Carol Burnett and Alan Alda.

In addition, he wrote dozens of plays depicting the upper classes with titles like “The Cocktail Hour,” “The Dining Room” and “The Old Boy” that underscored a bygone sense of class-consciousness.