Decorated playwright mixes wit and wistfulness

Richard Greenberg ’80’s latest play was nominated for a Tony Award.
Richard Greenberg ’80’s latest play was nominated for a Tony Award.
Jennifer S. Altman

Résumé Author of 28 plays and six television shows. Winner of Tony, Drama Desk, and New York Drama Critics’ Circle awards. Yale School of Drama playwriting program. Majored in English.

Making sense of life In the plays of Richard Greenberg ’80 — known for their seamless mix of comedy, tenderness, and verbal dexterity — characters often look back on their lives and struggle to make sense of what they see. “We’re always trying to make a cogent story out of our existence,” says Greenberg, “and people in my plays often feel they have the story, but almost invariably they’re wrong.”

Deception and devotion In The Assembled Parties, which ran on Broadway through July and was nominated for a 2013 Tony Award for best play, an affluent Jewish family comes together on Christmas Day. Amid the characters’ many wisecracks (one character says of her 87-year-old comatose mother, “She’ll wake up expressly to make you feel terrible”) are revelations about deceptions and disappointments, but also about devotion. Greenberg’s plays explore “how much we know about other people, and how much we don’t know,” says Lynne Meadow, artistic director of the Manhattan Theatre Club, which has produced eight of his plays. “There’s such intelligence and depth to his writing.”

Out of the limelight Greenberg is best known for Take Me Out, his 2002 play about a professional baseball player who comes out as gay, which won a Tony for best play. But he is not well known to the public, which is how he likes it. He skipped the after-parties at this year’s Tonys, and avoids seeing performances of his plays: “I have a certain terror of being amid the audience.” Awards are nice, he says, but “I’m happiest when I’m holed up in my apartment doing the writing.”