Albert Innaurato, author of Gemini, the longest-running Broadway play of the post-World War II period, and who popularized the phrase “Take human bites!,” died September 24, 2017, at age 70.
Born June 2, 1947, Innaurato grew up in a working class Italian-American home in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a milieu he would explore in many of his plays. He attended the Yale University School of Drama during its 1970s golden age, when his classmates included actors Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver, and fellow playwrights Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang. Innaurato collaborated with Durang on precocious parody The Idiot's Karamazov, which brought both of them to the attention of New York producers.
In his subsequent work, Innaurato seemed drawn to grotesque ethnic characters, many of whom had an unhealthy attachment to food, prompting acerbic critic John Simon to dub him “The Poet Laureate of Lard.”
Innaurato’s biggest hit came with Gemini, a comedy about a gay Harvard student who brings his WASPy college friends home to meet his deeply peculiar family in Philadelphia to celebrate his 21st birthday. After successful Off-Broadway and regional productions, the show moved to Broadway’s Little Theatre (now the Helen Hayes), originally starring Danny Aiello, Reed Birney, Jonathan Hadary, and Jessica James. The show ran for 1,819 performances, eventually becoming the longest-running non-musical on Broadway of the postwar period. It remains today as the fourth-longest running play in Broadway history, behind only pre-war staples Life With Father (3,224 performances), Tobacco Road (3,182), and Abie’s Irish Rose (2,327).
The show was advertised for years with a commercial that became a staple of daytime TV in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which the characters repeated lines that became catchphrases, including “I'm not hungry, I’ll just pick,” and ”Take human bites!” The show was taped for Showtime. It was also adapted as a big-screen film, titled Happy Birthday, Gemini, in 1980.
Inaurato returned to Broadway in 1980 with Passione, another play about an offbeat Italian-American family with eating issues, but it ran just two weeks despite the presence of Jerry Stiller and Dick Latessa in the cast, and Frank Langella in the director’s chair.
Other plays include Coming of Age in Soho (1985), about a gay man who finds himself blocked after early success, and The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie (1976), starring James Coco as a massively overweight man who finds solace for his resulting isolation in yet more food. The umbrella title for the published version of Innaurato’s collected works was Bizarre Behavior.
Innaurato worked thereafter mainly on TV, writing scripts for the hit series The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and for Verna: USO Girl, which earned him an Emmy Award nomination. He also worked for many years as a director of opera at City Center Opera Theatre and other companies.
Gemini was adapted as a stage musical in 2006, but didn't continue beyond its premiere production at the Prince Musical Theatre in Philadelphia. Innaurato worked for several years on a musical adaptation of Alan Lightman’s novel Einstein’s Dreams, which was produced in 2007, also in Philadelphia.