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Tony Award-winning playwright Christopher Durang has died

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Tony Award-winning playwright Christopher Durang died on Tuesday at his home in Pennsylvania of complications from aphasia. That is according to his husband. He was 75. Durang wrote plays, both comic and melancholy, says our reporter, Jeff Lunden.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: There was always something a little wicked, a little angry and more than a little comic about Christopher Durang's writing. The New Jersey native honed his craft at the Yale School of Drama and got his big break in 1981 when he thrilled and scandalized some audiences with "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You." The play ran several years off Broadway and was banned in some cities. Here's Durang reading part of the nun's monologue on WHYY's Fresh Air.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CHRISTOPHER DURANG: (Reading) To answer your question, Sodom is where they committed acts of homosexuality and bestiality in the Old Testament. And God, infuriated by this, destroyed them all in one fell swoop. Modern-day Sodoms are New York City, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Los Angeles - well, basically anywhere where the population is over 50,000.

ANDRE BISHOP: I think the thing about Christopher Durang is that he was not just a funny writer who tackled big subjects and went after all sorts of people and all sorts of things that he found absurd in life.

LUNDEN: Andre Bishop is artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater and worked with Christopher Durang for much of the playwright's 40-year career.

BISHOP: He was a writer of great humanity and compassion, and that increased as his career went on.

LUNDEN: Durang's plays were often absurdist and came from personal experiences - his family, his time in therapy. But sometimes, Durang took on huge subjects. One of his plays was called "Why Torture Is Wrong And The People Who Love Them." This is from NPR's Talk Of The Nation in 2009.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DURANG/NPR CLIP: I have to admit, I didn't sit down and say, I'm going to write a comedy about torture. And, you know, torture isn't funny. However, I've taken to describing the play a little bit to people as in the vein of "Dr. Strangelove."

LUNDEN: Over his career, Durang had hits and flops. For a while, he abandoned theater to write for film and television. But he kept on coming back, both as a writer and as a performer. And he scored big with a Chekhovian-influenced comedy, "Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike," which won the Tony Award for best play in 2013.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Nina) You remind me of my uncle, only nicer and more artistic. He burps a lot, and he doesn't speak much.

LUNDEN: Andre Bishop, who produced the play, says it was no wonder that one of Christopher Durang's plays was called "Laughing Wild."

BISHOP: I've never known anyone who liked to laugh more than he did. And that's what I remember - this just effervescent laugh that he had and the fact that he looked at the world through very sharp and very funny eyes.

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADRIAN YOUNGE SONG, "STEP BEYOND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.