Playwright A.R. 'Pete' Gurney Dead At 86; Lived In Connecticut

 Pete Gurney at Hartford's There Bushnell; for "Love Letters" last February.

Pete Gurney at Hartford's There Bushnell; for "Love Letters" last February.

Playwright A.R. Gurney died Tuesday in his home in Manhattan at the age of 86. He also had a home in Roxbury, CT.

FROM MY INTERVIEW WITH A.R. "PETE" GURNEY FROM HIS ROXBURY HOME, JAN. 14, 2007 IN THE HARTFORD COURANT

In A.R. Gurney's ``The Cocktail Hour,'' a playwright returns to his family to get their permission to proceed with a production of a play whose characters bear a striking resemblance to the people in the room.

Gurney did not go through a similar experience in 1988 when he wrote this play, which strikes close to home and of which he suspected his mother would not approve.

`I didn't have the courage to present her with the play,'' says Gurney.

The play, now in previews at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, opens Wednesday. Unlike many playwrights who write biographical stories with encouragement from doting parents, Gurney's well-bred mother and father would wince whenever their son tapped into the family WASP milieu for material.

``I certainly couldn't have written `The Cocktail Hour' until my father had died. It would have killed him,'' he says. ``He didn't like at all what I wrote. He felt I was betraying, revealing things I shouldn't reveal, embarrassing the family and using language which he thought was vulgar and unattractive.''

For those unfamiliar with the dozens of plays of A.R. ``Pete'' Gurney, including ``Sylvia,'' ``The Dining Room'' and the ubiquitous ``Love Letters,'' let it be said that we're not talking plays that feature Mamet language, LaBute brutes or Shepardian rawness. Gurney's characters are to manners born and bred and live an upper-class life -- or at least an upper middle-class life -- often in his hometown of Buffalo. Because of his prolific output and his civilized wit, he is sometimes compared to Britain's Alan Ayckbourn, but Gurney's style and subjects -- often living in a rarefied and increasingly threatened WASP culture -- are his own.

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