Doric Wilson, Playwright and Gay Activist, Dies at 72

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08 May 2011

Doric Wilson, an early figure in New York's Off-Off-Broadway scene who was as big a champion of gay theatre as he was of gay rights in general, died May 7, according to friends. He was 72.



Mr. Wilson was one of the first resident playwrights at the legendary Caffe Cino in Greenwich Village, where many fledgling Off-Off-Broadway playwrights cut their teeth. His comedy And He Made A Her opened there in 1961. Only two years in New York, and not wanting people to think the work was his first produced play, he attended performances in three-piece suits with a trench coat tossed over his shoulders. "I also drank brandy and soda," he recalled.

The success of that play and the three that followed, including Pretty People, Babel Babel Little Tower and Now She Dances!— which dealt head on with the trail of Oscar Wilde—helped establish Joe Cino's hole-in-the-wall cafe as an offbeat theatre mecca. Later in the 1960s, Mr. Wilson was one of the first playwrights invited to join the Barr/Wilder/Albee Playwright's Unit and, with fellow Cino alum Lanford Wilson, Circle Repertory Theatre. His other plays included In Absence, Turnabout, The West Street Gang, A Perfect Relationship and Forever After.

Doric Wilson was present on June 28, 1969, when riots broke out at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. The rebellion of the bar's gay denizens against harassing police is generally recognized as having signaled the beginning of the gay rights movement. Mr. Wilson had already been an active participant in the anti-war and civil rights fights of the 1960s. Following the riot, he became active in Gay Activist Alliance and, as a "star" bartender, helped open post-Stonewall gay bars like The Spike, TY's and Brothers & Sisters Cabaret.

In 1974, Doric Wilson, along with Billy Blackwell, Peter del Valle and John McSpadden, formed TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence), the first professional theatre company to deal openly and honestly with the gay experience. "I was involved with Circle Rep at the time," he later recalled, "when it suddenly occurred to me that I could use the Cino experience to combine my talents with my politics. I could focus my life and abilities to promote a theatre dedicated 'to an honest and open exploration of the GLBT life experience and cultural sensibility.'”

The company produced new plays and revivals by Noel Coward, Joe Orton, Terrence McNally and Lanford Wilson. In June 2001 Wilson and directors Mark Finley and Barry Childs resurrected the company as TOSOS II. "Wilson has devoted his life to the once-radical notion that gay lives deserved true representation," observed playwright Craig Lucas.

In 2004 Doric Wilson was honored to be one of the Grand Marshals of the 35th Anniversary Pride Day Parade in New York City. He is featured in the documentary film "Stonewall Uprising" (2010).

Alan Doyle Wilson was born Feb. 24, 1939, in Los Angeles, and raise in the Pacific Northwest, on his grandfather's ranch at Plymouth on the Columbia River of Washington State. He long perpetuated the myth that his middle name was not Doyle, but the more exotic-sounding Doric, said Richard Stehr, who was a roommate with Mr. Wilson in 1961.

He received his early theatre training under Lorraine Larson, apprenticed with Dorothy Seeburger and the Richland Players (WA), and studied briefly at the Drama Department of the University of Washington. He moved to New York in 1959, where he had a brief career as an actor before turning to playwriting.