Louis LaRusso II, Tony-Nommed Playwright Who Chronicled Hoboken Lives, Dead at 67

Obituaries   Louis LaRusso II, Tony-Nommed Playwright Who Chronicled Hoboken Lives, Dead at 67
Louis LaRusso II, the prolific Tony Award-nominated playwright whose hometown of Hoboken, NJ, honored him with a special proclamation in 1998 for chronicling the Hoboken experience in 26 plays, died Feb. 22 of cancer, The New York Times reported.

Mr. LaRusso was 67 and leaves behind many plays, including the Tony-nommed Lamppost Reunion, perhaps his best-known "Hoboken Play," about a Sinatra like figure returning to his hometown neighborhood bar in 1974. It ran on Broadway in the 1975-76 season, earning 1976 Tony Award nominations for Best Play and Best Supporting Actor (Gabriel Dell).

On Nov. 11, 1998, the City of Hoboken offered a tribute to its theatrical chronicler. Hoboken Mayor Anthony Russo honored Mr. LaRusso with a proclamation: "Louis LaRusso is known throughout Hoboken for his love of all that is Hoboken, and he is respected by those who truly remember 'the good old days,' as accurately portrayed in his plays."

The ceremony coincided with the Off-Broadway opening of Mr. LaRusso's Sweatshop at the American Theatre of Actors in Manhattan. Janet Sarno starred in the open ended run of the drama about women workers in a sewing machine shop in 1958 Hoboken.

Stage, film and TV actress Sarno appeared in Mr. LaRusso's Knockout on Broadway opposite Danny Aiello in the 1978-79 season, and in a handful of other works by the playwright.

Mr. LaRusso, who lived in Hoboken, set his 26 "Hoboken Plays" in periods spanning the entire 20th century, from 1900 (Beginnings) to 1995 (The Turkey). It's not uncommon for playwrights to stick with a certain milieu: As Mr. LaRusso writes about people in the small, industrial city of Hoboken, so Horton Foote's territory is Texas, Neil Simon's world is Upper East or West Side New York City, David Mamet's is Chicago and August Wilson has written several plays set in Pittsburgh's African American neighborhood. Other Hoboken-set works include Marlon Brando Sat Right Here (Off-Broadway, 1979-80), Momma's Little Angels (Off-Broadway, 1978-79) and The Black Marble Shoe Shine Stand (Off-Off-Broadway, Sept.-Oct. 1998). His Wheelbarrow Closers (set in Englewood, NJ) played Broadway in the 1976-77 season and was made into the film, "The Closer." Mr. LaRusso also contributed to the books of the musicals Dreamgirls and Platinum. In 1983, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting work, but returned to Hoboken.

Mr. LaRusso directed 1998's Sweatshop. In 1999, film and TV actor Danny Aiello headlined a reading of Mr. LaRusso's new work, The December Song.

Set in Greenwich Village in 1959, the work is about the end of the Beat Generation era. Aiello played a once-great poet.

"It's Greek tragedy," LaRusso told Playbill On-Line. "There's a lot humor in it, but it's a very dark play. It's about the decline of the Beat Generation in December 1959, as the temperature of the village is changing from the angry movement of the beatniks to this more passive love movement of the hippies."

Into the Manhattan loft of the poet comes a young woman from his hometown. She adores him and his work, but "has a limited time to live."

Also in 1999, Mr. LaRusso explored the world of blacklisted Hollywood star Edward G. Robinson in his new play, A Slight Case of the Shorts, which played a showcase production at American Theater of Actors.

Jerome Weinstein played Robinson in the Hollywood-set drama that takes place in 1947, when the House Un American Activities Committee was in full bloom. The anti-Communist movement impacts Robinson, his career and his family.

The Guild of Italian American Actors presented a citation to the Italian-American LaRusso Dec. 10, 1998. The Guild recognized Mr. LaRusso's for his "outstanding achievement as an Italian American playwright, director and screenwriter."

Mr. LaRusso is survived by a son, Louis III.

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