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Photo by Gregory Constanza

Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Jr. began writing plays such as Children and The Middle Ages while a professor of Humanities and Literature at MIT.  It was his great success with The Dining Room that allowed him to write full-time. After The Dining Room, Gurney wrote a number of plays, most of them concerning WASPs of the American northeast. While at Yale, Gurney also wrote Love in Buffalo, the first musical ever produced at the Yale School of Drama.

His first play in New York, which ran for just one performance in October 1968, The David Show, premiered at the Players' Theater. The play was cut after its first show by sneers from the entire press except for two enthusiasts, Edith Oliver at The New Yorker and a critic for the Village Voice.

In 2006, Gurney was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2007, Gurney received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American dramatist.  He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 Obie Awards presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Village Voice.

Gurney died at his home in Manhattan, on June 13, 2017, at the age of 86.

Gurney's plays often explore the theme of declining upper-class "WASP" (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) life in contemporary America. The Wall Street Journal called his works "penetratingly witty studies of the WASP ascendancy in retreat." Several of his works are loosely based on his patrician upbringing, including The Cocktail Hour and Indian Blood. The New York Times drama critic Frank Rich, in his review of The Dining Room, wrote, "As a chronicler of contemporary America's most unfashionable social stratum — upper-middle-class WASPs, this playwright has no current theatrical peer."

In an interview with The New York Times, Gurney said:

"Just as it's mentioned in The Cocktail Hour, my great-grandfather hung up his clothes one day and walked into the Niagara River and no one understood why." Gurney added that "he was a distinguished man in Buffalo. My father could never mention it, and it affected the family well into the fourth generation as a dark and unexplainable gesture. It made my father and his father desperate to be accepted, to be conventional, and comfortable. It made them commit themselves to an ostensibly easy bourgeois world. They saw it so precariously, but the reason was never mentioned. I first learned about it after my father died."


Gurney told The Washington Post:

"WASPs do have a culture — traditions, idiosyncrasies, quirks, particular signals and totems we pass on to one another. But the WASP culture, or at least that aspect of the culture I talk about, is enough in the past so that we can now look at it with some objectivity, smile at it, and even appreciate some of its values. There was a closeness of family, a commitment to duty, to stoic responsibility, which I think we have to say weren't entirely bad."

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