(Will Dudding’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/2; via Pam Green.)
With “Luv” on Broadway and “Tootsie” on the screen, he wrote with knowing, slightly askew humor about subjects like sex, family and failure.
Murray Schisgal, a playwright and screenwriter who took his offbeat brand of humor to Broadway in the Tony Award-winning comedy “Luv” and to Hollywood in the hit farce “Tootsie,” died on Thursday in Port Chester, N.Y. He was 93.
His death was announced by his son, Zach.
Over a six-decade career in theater, Mr. Schisgal employed elements from the theater of the absurd — like flooding dialogue with clichés and presenting fantastic situations as probable — to write about such domestic themes as marriage, sex, family, loneliness and failure.
His first Broadway success, “Luv,” opened in 1964, with Eli Wallach, Ann Jackson and Alan Arkin in the original cast. It ran for 902 performances, won three Tony Awards (including one for Mike Nichols’s direction) and earned Mr. Schisgal nominations for best play and best author of a play.
While the play was a hit, Mr. Schisgal, with characteristically self-deprecating humor, implied that during the previews the Broadway crowd questioned coming to a play that thematically seemed like more of a downtown experience. But the critics were encouraging.
“Whatever the truth of the old saw that misery loves company,” Howard Taubman wrote in his New York Times review, “the chances are excellent that you’ll love the company of the three recurrently miserable characters that make up the cast of ‘Luv.’”
Writing in New York magazine, Walter Kerr described Mr. Schisgal as “one step ahead of the avant-garde,” referring to the stagnant state of trans-Atlantic theater in the decade since Samuel Beckett addressed the meaninglessness of existence in a post-atomic age. The theater scene, in the early 1960s, was full of derivative playwrights stuck in Beckett’s philosophical purgatory, and Mr. Schisgal’s approach, to trade gloom for irreverence, provided an escape hatch.
“If the avant-garde, up to now, has successfully exploded the bright balloons of cheap optimism,” Mr. Kerr wrote, “Mr. Schisgal is ready to put a pin to the soapy bubbles of cheap pessimism. Whatever social and philosophical stalemates we have come to, wit at least need not be halted in its tracks.”
Mr. Schisgal explained his unusual title as an expression of his belief that the word “love” had become so misused that what people experienced, felt and thought could be discussed only by using a different word.