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Innaurato, Albert (b. 1948)  
 
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"'Gayness,' in and of itself, is of no interest to me whatever as a writer," playwright Albert Innaurato explained in response to a controversy that broke out over his attitude towards sexual orientation in one of his plays. "I am interested in the experiences of individual people in specific circumstances, and it would never occur to me to attack a work of fiction because I disagreed with the sexuality of a particular character--but these are the times in which we live."

Innaurato's quiet exasperation suggests the extremes that he negotiates in his writing. His plays are remarkable as much for the marginalizing ethnic identity, sexual orientation, and body image of their characters (people whom he describes as sitting "outside the standard categories our great society thinks so immutable"), as they are for the playwright's refusal to adopt a politically correct attitude concerning the unfairness of prejudice.

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Innaurato's fascination with the ambivalent responses that people make at moments of identity crisis--and his own refusal to criticize those responses and, thus, allow his audience to leave the theater confident that justice has been served and/or a crisis resolved--have made him a difficult playwright to type and, as a consequence, have limited his popularity.

This is unfortunate because he remains an important playwright of the nascent gay theater movement of the 1970s and 1980s--in particular the Theater of the Ridiculous--and deserves to enjoy the same renown currently bestowed upon Charles Ludlum and upon Innaurato's one-time collaborator, Christopher Durang.

Biography

Albert F. Innaurato was born in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in south Philadelphia on June 2, 1948. The neighborhood experience is recreated in several of his plays in which an Italian-American family coexists, generally happily, with its Jewish- and Irish-American neighbors on the outskirts of a larger, more powerful, and vaguely menacing WASP society.

Innaurato began studying piano and musical composition as a child and became addicted to listening to the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts by the Metropolitan Opera. While still only a boy, he began attending live local performances.

He remembers those days with great fondness: "I was utterly uncritical about what I saw. In those days, in Philadelphia, the scenery would often wave when a well-endowed singer took a deep breath. It didn't matter to me; that was life. That was the only world worth living in. A world where fat people were young and beautiful forever. A world where the darkest deeds and most horrible tragedies were celebrated in the most glorious music and the victims emerged from endless death throes into equally endless ovations."

In an essay detailing his love of opera, Innaurato recalls that he had written his third score by the time he was sixteen, including a libretto based on Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. A music teacher who appreciated the boy's ambitious libretti, but who lamented his lack of musical talent, encouraged him to write plays instead.

Still, Innaurato's passion for opera has been a hallmark of his career, reflected not only in his playwriting, but also in his side career of writing about opera and his serving as dramaturg, director, and developer of projects for opera companies.

After graduating from Philadelphia's Temple University (B. A. circa 1969), Innaurato attended the California Institute of the Arts (B. F. A. 1972), and then entered the theater arts program at Yale University (M. F. A. 1974).

Innaurato's two years at Yale coincided with an extraordinary moment in the drama school's history. He studied playwriting with Terrence McNally, at the time a rising young playwright who, during his Yale residency, wrote and oversaw a student production of the play that would eventually become his wildly successful Broadway farce, The Ritz.

Innaurato would remain friends until her death with Wendy Wasserstein, a fellow student who would become a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. And while at Yale, Innaurato collaborated with another student, Christopher Durang, on three works: a satiric cabaret piece titled "I Don't Generally Like Poetry, But Have You Read 'Trees'?"; a black comedy titled The Life of Mitzi Gaynor; or, Gyp; and a musical play titled The Idiots Karamazov that careened wildly off Dostoyevsky's somber novel. Fellow students Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver acted in two of his earliest produced works.

Following graduation, Innaurato scored a critical success with the dark and disturbing The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie, which was done in a workshop at Yale in 1973, then moved in 1975 to Off-Broadway in a production directed by McNally's partner at the time, Robert Drivas, with whom Innaurato had also worked at Yale. The production earned Obie Awards for both Innaurato and his star, James Coco.

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Albert Innaurato in a still from a YouTube video.
  
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