New Plays and Bad News: August Wilson and Alan Ball
There is sad news to report, however, about acclaimed playwright August Wilson -- he has announced he's dying of liver cancer:
"It's not like poker, you can't throw your hand in," he said by phone from Seattle. "I've lived a blessed life. I'm ready."
Doctors at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle discovered his condition in June and recommended immediate chemoembolization -- cancer-fighting drugs injected directly into the tumor -- followed by a liver transplant. But the disease proved too far advanced for treatment. Wilson said his physicians told him then that he had a life expectancy of three to five months.
Wilson is the most commercially successful African-American playwright in history; his 10-play history cycle, which includes acclaimed works like Fences, Two Trains Running, Joe Turner's Come and Gone and The Piano Lesson, have all played on Broadway and around the country, winning Tonys, Pulitzers, and Emmys. In New York, his plays helped to launch the careers of Charles Dutton, Viola Davis and Laurence Fishburne. His last play in the series, Radio Golf, premiered just this summer at Yale Repertory Theatre and is currently running at L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum, and it is hoped that it will be mounted on Broadway this season.
I've had my issues with Wilson over the years -- like many geniuses, he's cranky and cantankerous, and a bit foolhardy -- but his contribution to the field cannot be underestimated. His sense of history, place, and context are just about unrivaled in contemporary writing, and his characters are so rich one can't help but be drawn to them. After Wilson, there will be no others...like O'Neill, like Williams, like Albee. Our wishes are with him and his family.