Authors: Donald Margulies

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright

Identity: Jewish

Author Works

Drama:

Luna Park, pr. 1982

Resting Place, pr. 1982

Gifted Children, pr. 1983

Found a Peanut, pr., pb. 1984

What’s Wrong with This Picture?, pr. 1985

Zimmer, pr. 1988

The Model Apartment, pr. 1988

The Loman Family Picnic, pr., pb. 1989 (music by David Shire)

Pitching to the Star, pr. 1990

Women in Motion, pr. 1991

Sight Unseen, pr. 1991

Pitching to the Star, and Other Short Plays, pb. 1993

July 7, 1994, pr. 1995

Collected Stories: A Play, pr. 1996

Broken Sleep: Three Plays, pr. 1997 (three one-act plays; music by Michael-John La Chiusa)

Dinner with Friends, pr. 1998

God of Vengeance, pr. 2000

Teleplays:

Dinner with Friends, 2001 (adaptation of his play)

Collected Stories, 2002 (adaptation of his play)

Biography

Donald Margulies (MAHR-gyuh-lees) was born in Brooklyn to a middle-class Jewish family on September 2, 1954. Despite a forty-year career as a wallpaper salesman, Margulies’s father, Bob, always feared that he would lose his job. Constantly working, Bob Margulies never developed a close relationship with his two sons. However, he tried to provide them every opportunity. The Margulies house was filled with show tunes, and the family attended as many Broadway plays as they could afford. His father’s love for theater helped to mold Margulies’s writing.{$I[A]Margulies, Donald}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Margulies, Donald}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Margulies, Donald}{$I[tim]1954;Margulies, Donald}

Margulies’s mother also shaped his writing by fueling his passion for reading. However, as Margulies became more engrossed in literature, his illiterate father felt threatened and grew more distant. Many of Margulies’s early plays explore the relationship between sons and their detached fathers.

Margulies attended the Pratt Institute, then transferred to the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase, where he attained a bachelor of fine arts degree in visual arts. He wrote his first plays while a student at SUNY-Purchase. After graduation, he worked as a graphic artist but continued to write.

In the early 1980’s, the Jewish Repertory Theatre produced many of Margulies’s plays, including Luna Park, Resting Place, and Gifted Children. The latter play was his first full-length work and received very negative reviews. However, Joseph Papp, producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival, saw promise in the young playwright and produced his next play, Found a Peanut.

Following his mother’s death in 1978, Margulies wrote several plays that delved into a strained relationship between father and son. In What’s Wrong with This Picture?, Mort and Artie struggle with the grief they feel over the death of Shirley, their wife and mother. The play takes a surreal turn when the father asks his son to wear his mother’s dress, only to be interrupted by Shirley’s return. Shirley’s homecoming promises joy but, in the end, brings confusion and grief. Margulies’s struggle to find his father’s voice continued in The Loman Family Picnic. Consciously drawing upon Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman (1949), Margulies created a Jewish family similar to Miller’s Loman family. Margulies’s protagonist suffered from the same economic and social pressures that drove Willy Loman to suicide. Margulies captured his father’s voice in Herbie’s final speeches.

Margulies secured his reputation as a “chronicler of the Holocaust-shadowed lives of American Jews,” according to critic Stephanie Coen, with The Model Apartment, a play that investigated the power of tragedy to shape perception. Lola and Max retired to Miami, evading their mentally challenged daughter, Debby. It seems that Debby continually ridicules their Holocaust experience. Debby finds them, unearthing the pain that both Lola and Max still feel. Max has constructed an elaborate fantasy life involving Debby’s namesake, his daughter from a previous marriage who was lost during the Holocaust. As the play concludes, Debby’s banishment from the family parallels the disappearance of Max’s fantasy daughter, Deborah. Margulies continued to explore Jewish cultural issues in God of Vengeance, a play that he labeled the “dark side” of Fiddler on the Roof.

Margulies received national recognition with the plays Sight Unseen, Collected Stories, and Dinner with Friends. In Sight Unseen, Jonathan Waxman is a highly acclaimed painter. He seeks out a former girlfriend who owns a portrait Waxman painted early in his career. The characters struggle with past identity lost to accommodate present circumstances. Waxman has become a slick profiteer, producing works for clients sight unseen, unconcerned about artistic vision. In this play, Margulies explores Jewish heritage sacrificed for celebrity and commercial success.

Both Collected Stories and Dinner with Friends examine the darker side of intimacy. The first explores a conflict between Lisa, a young writer, and her mentor, Ruth. In her first successful novel, Lisa appropriates a remembrance told in confidence. Dinner with Friends explores the impact that divorce has upon a quartet of best friends, setting off a series of personal examinations that form the basis of the play. In the end, Dinner with Friends probes the strength of commitment, the value of fidelity, and the depths of love in relationships, both marital and fraternal.

Margulies has received numerous Obie and Drama Desk Awards, among others. He received Pulitzer nominations for Sight Unseen and Collected Stories, and Dinner with Friends received a Pulitzer Prize in 2000. He was elected to the Dramatists Guild Council in 1993. Margulies married physician Lynn Street in 1987; they had one son. Margulies has taught playwriting at Yale School of Drama.

BibliographyBoles, William C. “Donald Margulies.” In Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, edited by Christopher J. Wheatley. Vol. 228 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 2000. Provides a comprehensive overview of Margulies’s plays, exploring recurring themes.Bossler, Gregory. “Donald Margulies.” The Dramatist (July/August, 2000): 4-14. Bossler’s sweeping interview covers Margulies’ art background, his contributions to theater, and his work as a professor of playwriting.Durang, Christopher, Wendy Wasserstein, Donald Margulies, and Jeffrey Sweet. “Ethics and Responsibilities.” The Dramatists Guild Quarterly (Summer, 1986): 15-23. Margulies makes valuable contributions to a discussion with other young playwrights about the responsibilities of artists regarding ethics in society.Margulies, Donald. “A Playwright’s Search for the Spiritual Father.” The New York Times, June 21, 1992, sec. 2, p. 5. A very personal essay, explaining much about the playwright’s early writing.Margulies, Donald. Sight Unseen and Other Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1996. In addition to Found a Peanut, Sight Unseen, The Loman Family Picnic, What’s Wrong with This Picture?, and The Model Apartment, this edition contains Margulies’ “Afterword,” an invaluably insightful essay about his early life, originally published as “A Playwright’s Search for the Spiritual Father,” June 21, 1992, in The New York Times. Critic Michael Feingold’s useful essay, “Donald Margulies, or What’s an American Playwright?,” is also included.Schlueter, June. “Ways of Seeing in Donald Margulies’ Sight Unseen.” Studies in American Drama, 1945-Present 8, no. 1 (1993): 3-11. Schlueter emphasizes perception of self and others as an important layer in this complex play.
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