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Durang, Christopher (b. 1949)  
 
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Christopher Durang is an openly gay playwright, screenwriter, and actor whose works have been produced on and off-Broadway and regionally since the late 1970s. A fiercely satirical comic dramatist, Durang often incorporates gay themes and gay characters in his plays.

Durang was born on January 2, 1949 in Montclair, New Jersey. He attended Harvard, where he earned a B.A. in English in 1971, and the Yale School of Drama, from which he received an M.F.A in Playwriting in 1974. At Yale he collaborated on several projects with fellow students Albert Innaurato, Wendy Wasserstein, Meryl Streep, and Sigourney Weaver.

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In 1976, Durang's musical revue A History of the American Film, for which he wrote both lyrics and music, won a spot at the national Eugene O'Neill Playwriting Conference and was presented in Hartford, Los Angeles, and Washington. The next year it was produced on Broadway, earning Durang a nomination for a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.

In 1979, Durang and Sigourney Weaver presented Das Lusitania Songspiel, a parody of contemporary Broadway musicals performed in the style of a Brecht-Weill cabaret. Durang and Weaver both received Drama Desk nominations for their performances.

Durang's breakthrough in achieving critical and financial success came in 1981 with the Off-Broadway production of his scathing one-act play, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You (written in 1979), which has over the years become a popular vehicle for actresses as diverse as Nancy Marchand, Cloris Leachman, Lynn Redgrave, and many others.

In Sister Mary Ignatius . . . , Durang draws on his childhood experiences as a student in Catholic school. He satirizes the unbending dogmatism of the eponymous Catholic nun, who is oblivious to the absurdity of what she believes and to the harm that she causes. When four former students, one of them a contented gay man, return to embarrass Sister, she shoots two of them (including the gay man) dead.

The Off-Broadway success of Sister Mary Ignatius earned Durang his first Obie Award, and inaugurated a prolific period for him in the 1980s. Notable Durang plays from the decade include Beyond Therapy (1982), two semi-autobiographical plays, Baby with the Bathwater (1983) and The Marriage of Bette & Boo (1985), and Laughing Wild (1987), all of which premiered in successful Off-Broadway productions.

Durang, who jokes that he deserves an award for unproduced screenplays, has written a number of scripts for film and television, including The House of Husbands (co-written with Wendy Wasserstein, 1980), The Nun Who Shot Liberty Valance (1982), and Beyond Therapy (1986), adapted from his play. (Robert Altman's 1987 film Beyond Therapy, however, is only loosely based on Durang's screenplay, though the director and playwright share writing credit.) In 2001, Durang adapted Sister Mary Ignatius . . . as a Showtime television move directed by Marshall Brickman and starring Diane Keaton.

Since 1987, Durang's playwriting has become somewhat less prolific. Sex and Longing (1996), intended as an indictment of the Christian Right and starring Sigourney Weaver, was poorly received on Broadway. Durang's recent plays include a pop culture farce, Betty's Summer Vacation (1999), and a madcap riff on Dickens in Mrs. Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge (2002).

Among Durang's most recent works are a musical, Adrift in Macao (2002), with book and lyrics by Durang and music by Peter Melnick, and a play Miss Witherspoon (2005).

In addition to the plays mentioned above, Durang has written numerous one-act plays, sketches, parodies, and teleplays.

Durang's plays exhibit a distinctive style that blends comedy and anger into often over-the-top satire, which critic Charles Isherwood describes as "readily identifiable, absurdist-existentialist shtick." Durang uses often-hilarious exaggeration to comment on everyday life (a woman in Laughing Wild flies into a rage because she cannot reach a can of tuna); social and political events (in the same play, a bisexual man lashes out at the Christian Right's reaction to AIDS in the early years of the epidemic); and his own family (a gay man originally played by Durang observes his parents' unhappy marriage and divorce in the autobiographical The Marriage of Bette and Boo).

Durang often creates hyper-sexual characters (both gay and straight) in an attempt to unhinge attitudes about sexual behavior. In Sister Mary Ignatius . . ., Gary explains his homosexuality to his former teacher: "I was seduced when I was in the seminary . . . and then I went to New York and I slept with five hundred different people."

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