Warren Manzi, Author of Long-Running Record-Holder Perfect Crime, Dies at 60

Obituaries   Warren Manzi, Author of Long-Running Record-Holder Perfect Crime, Dies at 60
 
Warren Manzi, whose name was familiar to few theatregoers, though thousands upon thousands of them had seen his work, died Feb. 11 in Lawrence, MA. He was 60.

Mr. Manzi’s big credit was a little thriller called Perfect Crime. It opened Off-Broadway in April 1987 to little fanfare. But its run will outlive its author. The play is currently in its 29th year, its current home being the Snapple Theatre Center in Times Square.

Like an inexplicably favored, family-owned, neighborhood eatery that keeps on doing business while more heralded restaurants come and go, Perfect Crime has soldiered on season after season, though seldom reviewed and frequently altogether forgotten by the larger theatre community. When it opened at the Courtyard Playhouse in Greenwich Village, the New York Times sent a third-string critic. He published a measured review that would have spelled "hit" to almost no one. Few critics rallied around the play, many complaining about the confusing plot. But it mattered little. A commercial producer moved the play after four weeks, at a cost of $65,000, and the audiences still came.

Perfect Crime's many homes over the years have included the 47th Street Theater, The Harold Clurman Theatre, Theatre Four, the McGinn-Cazale Theater, INTAR and the Duffy Theater at 46th Street and Broadway, in a renovated burlesque house above a Howard Johnson’s. Theatregoers found it wherever it went. Today, it is the longest-running play in New York history.

"The producers of Perfect Crime have displayed enviable persistence," wrote Jason Zinoman in the Times in 2005, "beating the odds by maintaining low overhead (Jay Stone and Mr. Manzi's naturalistic design is not lavish) and picking up extra dollars wherever they can."

Over the years, the show became as famous for its leading lady at it did for its longevity. Catherine Russell has performed the role of Margaret Thorne Brent—a psychiatrist who may have murdered her husband—in the play since it opened, only missing a handful of performances. Indeed, she eventually became more associated with the play than Mr. Manzi. Warren Manzi was born on July 1, 1955, in Manchester, NH, and attended the Yale School of Drama. He wrote Perfect Crime when he was 25 and still an actor and functioning as an understudy to the title role in the Broadway production of Amadeus. The play was originally optioned for Broadway by Morton Gottlieb, but that production never materialized. A projected London mounting also didn’t happen.

Mr. Manzi was heavily invested in the survival of his play. In addition to doing frequent rewrites, and cutting the running time down an hour early on, he also played at least two of the roles in the production at various times.

As an actor, his other credits included a production of Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class at Yale Rep in 1980. He directed Samm-Art Williams’ play Cork in 1986.

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