Christopher Durang, Writer of ‘Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You,’ Dies at 75

Christopher Durang, a Tony Award-winning playwright who specialized in a particular form of brainy and absurdist comedy, has died. He was 75. The cause was complications from a form of dementia known as logopenic primary progressive aphasia, according to his husband John Augustine.

Durang was best known for writing 1979’s “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You,” a popular dissection of Catholic doctrine that was frequently staged, drawing occasional protests for its iconoclastic take on religion. A film version, starring Diane Keaton as the title character, aired on Showtime in 2001.

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Another Durang play, 1981’s “Beyond Therapy,” which looked at Manhattanites who cope with romantic neurosis with the help of their psychiatrists, was also adapted for the screen by Robert Altman. Despite having a cast that included Glenda Jackson and Jeff Goldblum, critics excoriated the 1987 film as flat and unfunny. It was an opinion shared by Durang, who described it as “a very unhappy experience and outcome.”

He had a better time with “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a comedic riff on Chekov plays that became a hit when it debuted on Broadway in 2013 with an ensemble led by Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce. Variety‘s Marilyn Stasio lauded the production as “brainy and witty and clever and cute,” the kind of praise that the Harvard and Yale-educated Durang’s work often received. “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” would go on to win the Tony Award for best play.

In a 2012 interview with Lincoln Center Theatre’s blog, Durang said he enjoyed revisiting Chekov’s plays as an older writer. “I’m the age of the older characters, and I identify with them more. But so many of the characters are very unhappy with where their lives are, and in most ways I am not.”

“I got to pursue a life in the theater,” he added. “Chekhov’s Vanya feels he has nothing. I have a lot. Still, in the new play I wanted to put myself in a more Chekhovian place.”

Other Durang works include 2005’s “Miss Witherspoon,” a darkly comic look at suicide and reincarnation that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, as well as 1983’s send-up of parenting, “Baby With the Bathwater.” As an actor, Durang appeared in such films as “The Cowboy Way,” “The Secret of My Success,” and “Housesitter,” playing a minister in the latter.

Services for Durang will be private. His agent, Patrick Herold, said an announcement regarding plans for a memorial will be released at a future date.

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