Pictured: Christopher Durang in 2012

Christopher Durang died earlier this month, from complications related to a rare form of dementia. Born in 1949 in Montclair, New Jersey, the playwright was called by the New York Times “a hyperliterate jester and an anarchic clown.” And Chris was very funny. But he also had a gentle, curious side—in fact, this is what made his comedies so affecting.

Chris appeared on State of the Arts several times. In 2012, I interviewed him at his home in Bucks County for the premiere of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton. The play, starring Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce, Kristine Neilsen, and Billy Magnussen, went on to win the Tony Award for best play. Like the work by Anton Chekhov that it pays homage to, Vanya and Sonia depicts the hopes and trials of youth, sibling rivalries—even the possible loss of a family home. And the connection goes even further. As Kristine Nielsen says in her interview, Chekov can be “ludicrously funny at times and then deeply, deeply sad and tragic at others… and I think Chris has captured that in this play.”

Emily Mann, the legendary artistic director of the McCarter for 30 years, first met Christopher Durang when they were both undergraduates at Harvard. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike was the second play she premiered by Chris; the first was Miss Witherspoon in 2005, again with Kristine Nielsen in a starring role. Miss Witherspoon follows the multiple reincarnations of the title character, who would prefer not to be alive. Existential themes of life and death are once again enmeshed in comedy that makes you laugh out loud, even just watching our story about the play!

Chris had many long friendships. Sigourney Weaver, Meryl Streep, and the playwright Wendy Wasserstein were all his classmates at Yale School of Drama. After Wendy died at age 55, Chris helped finish her last play, Pamela’s First Musical, based on her children’s book of the same name. When it premiered at Two River Theater in Red Bank in 2018, State of the Arts was there, and talked to Durang about the moving experience of helping put his old friend’s last production on the stage.

Here at State of the Arts, it’s always poignant to remember those we’ve worked with when they’ve gone.

Thank you Christopher Durang, for bringing your own unique stories to the world, and for making so many people laugh, and cry.