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Albert Innaurato, Playwright Who Lit Up Broadway in ’70s, Dies at 70

Mr. Innaurato had only recently graduated from the Yale School of Drama, where his fellow students included Christopher Durang, Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep. If his career arc did not ultimately match theirs — none of his later work came close to the success of “Gemini” — his wit and dark humor in those early days were on a par with Mr. Durang’s.


A scene from Mr. Innaurato’s comedy ‘‘Gemini,’’ which made its way back to the New York stage in 1999 after 22 years. The production was at the Second Stage Theater.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times


Linda Hart as the comically coarse Bunny Weinberger in the 1999 New York production of “Gemini.”

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

“They wrote comedy with all barrels blazing, especially Albert,” Ms. Weaver said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Mr. Innaurato was as fond of opera as he was of theater, both writing about it and directing it. Most recently he had been reviewing opera for the online magazine Parterre Box. A writer visiting his apartment in Greenwich Village for a profile for The New York Times in 1977 — at the peak of Mr. Innaurato’s theatrical career — found it almost unfurnished but full of records, most of them operatic ones.

“The character in ‘Gemini’ who’s always playing Maria Callas records — I think that was really autobiographical,” Mr. Paesani said.

Albert Francis Innaurato Jr. was born on June 2, 1947, in Philadelphia. His father, Albert, was a linotype operator; his mother, Mary, was a nurse. Mr. Paesani remembered that the family had a piano, which Albert began learning to play at 5.

He attended Temple University in Philadelphia and the California Institute of the Arts before being accepted into the Yale School of Drama in the early 1970s. There, he and Mr. Durang, who was in the same class, quickly found common ground: Both had attended Roman Catholic schools.

“As we were reading some of our work in class, it came up quite quickly that I was writing plays that often had nuns in them, and so was he,” Mr. Durang said in a telephone interview. “But mine were very Irish nuns, and his were angry Italian nuns who beat people up.”

Mr. Durang had made an experimental film of sorts inspired by “The Brothers Karamazov,” the Dostoyevsky novel.


Albert Innaurato in 2014.

Richard Perry/The New York Times

“I showed it to Albert,” he recalled, “and it was very crackpot, and he liked it and said, ‘We should write a musical together.’ ”

What resulted was “The Idiots Karamazov,” a sort of musical fracturing of Dostoyevsky that begins with an 80-year-old woman in a wheelchair who has muddled memories of translating Russian works. In its very first staging, in 1973, Mr. Innaurato played that part. When the play had subsequent stagings at the drama school and then, in 1974, at Yale Repertory Theater, a young actress in the class behind the two authors’, Ms. Streep, took the role.

“Albert and I were so unsavvy at this point that it never crossed our mind to see what the scenic designer was doing,” Mr. Durang recalled. For one thing, the set did not have a door big enough for the wheelchair to fit through. For another, the stage was inclined, leaving Ms. Streep in danger of rolling away if the chair’s brake should get bumped into the “off” position.

For Mr. Innaurato, it was a relatively short trip from those early efforts to the big time. In May 1976, “Benno Blimpie,” about a man who eats himself to death, was staged in New York by the Direct Theater, and that December Playwrights Horizons presented “Gemini,” with a cast that included Ms. Weaver.

“Mr. Innaurato’s instrument is not a needle, but a cleaver,” Mel Gussow wrote in reviewing that production of “Gemini” for The Times. “There is savagery in his humor that is, in a strange way, refreshing at the same time that it is terrifying.”

“Gemini” received two other productions, at the PAF Playhouse on Long Island and at the Circle Repertory Theater, before being mounted on Broadway. It is still one of the longest-running straight plays in Broadway history. It was also an early example of a mainstream work with a gay plot: The protagonist is being pursued romantically by a character named Judith but is more interested in her brother.

“Gemini” was revived in New York in 1999, at the Second Stage Theater, and it was made into a movie, “Happy Birthday, Gemini,” in 1980. In 2004 Mr. Innaurato collaborated with Charles Gilbert on “Gemini the Musical,” which had its premiere at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia.

Mr. Innaurato’s later plays included “Passione,” which went from Playwrights Horizons to a Broadway run that lasted only 16 performances in 1980, and “Coming of Age in Soho,” which received a lukewarm review from Frank Rich in The Times when it was staged at the Public Theater in 1985. Mr. Rich called it “an honest rite of passage from which Mr. Innaurato can honorably move on.”

Among his most recent stage credits was the one-act play “Doubtless,” seen in 2014 at 59e59 Theaters in Manhattan.


A scene from Mr. Innaurato’s one-act play “Doubtless,” which was staged in Manhattan in 2014. From left are Tasha Guevara, Brenda Currin and Dana Watkins.

Carol Rosegg

While working intermittently in the theater, Mr. Innaurato also pursued his love of opera, writing for Opera News and other publications and sometimes directing or acting as dramaturge. His opera reviews could be sharp-edged, like his assessment of a production of “Le Nozze di Figaro” at Opera Philadelphia in May.

“I only hope the standing ovation at the end of the performance was for Mozart’s music,” he wrote in Parterre Box, “and not for the mindless antics onstage. ‘Figaro’ deserves better than to be treated like an episode of ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians.’ ”

Mr. Innaurato leaves no immediate survivors.

If his writing could be caustic and his stage humor devastating, Ms. Weaver remembered a gentler side. She recalled performing a particularly weighty monologue while a student at Yale that was greeted with indifference by faculty members, whom she often found unsupportive.

“I remember Albert taking me aside and saying, ‘This is the kind of work you should be doing,’ ” she said. “Albert’s opinion meant a lot more to me than the teachers’ did.”

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