It is a wonderful circumstance when a person comes into your life that teaches you how to live and even more rare when someone teaches you how to die. Drury did both, facing both with such fullness of spirit and fearlessness that, in his presence, one was always carried to a renewed sense of the limitlessness of the human spirit.
Drury was truly a Renaissance man and blessed with formidable talents. He was not only a playwright, novelist, and author of several works of non-fiction; he was also a director, composer, and painter. Never one to suffer fools, he took every opportunity to challenge cultural mediocrity and political mendacity in our society. At the same time, he championed young artists with such a generosity of spirit and hopefulness that he made others feel emboldened to face challenges and never be daunted by their own limitations.
A craggy giant of a man, Drury had once flown fighter jets and seemed to be cut of the same cloth as the great American heroes. (Sadly, such giants have seemed to have shrunken and all but disappeared in this generation.) I think of Drury with that appellation of a “real man” yet he delighted in women and was so confident in his own identity that he never felt threatened around strong women; rather he basked in their light as he did with such pride in the two beautiful, brilliant women and the loves of his life, wife Ellen and daughter Rebecca.
Drury was born in Germiston, South Africa, of American parents and wrote a book about his early years in the beautifully crafted memoir, Innocents in Africa: An American Family’s Story, which was nominated for a Writer’s Guild Award in the U.K. for Best Non-Fiction. After graduating from the University of Washington in 1956 with a B.A. in History, he served as a U.S. Naval Aviator and then worked as a commercial pilot in California and Alaska. He was a founding member and artistic director of the Berkeley Stage Company in California and, later, of First Stage in Wilmington, DE. He wrote and had published short fiction and a biographical work, Hanging the Moon: The Rollins Rise to Riches.
Among Pifer’s various grants and awards were fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Delaware Division of the Arts. He served on the State Art Councils of Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania and taught creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Delaware.”
Pifer’s three dozen plays have been staged in New York, London, and diverse cities throughout the U.S. and Europe, by companies, including Oregon Shakespeare Festival and National Theatre of Denmark. In Washington D.C., he collaborated with Director Howard Shalwitz, where his African Tourist was nominated for the Helen Hayes/Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play in1992. I met and joined the collaborative team for his Strindberg in Hollywood, also produced by Woolly Mammoth, and nominated for Outstanding New Play in 1993.
Drury could be savage in his comedies but always insightful and painfully astute. He wrote with such a fury that it was often hard to keep up with him in the early process of work. His use of language was dazzling, so that in style it might be said he was more European (think Tom Stoppard) than American (Steinbeck.)
Drury wrote and directed me in the one-woman play Screaming Woman Next, which was performed at the Corcoran and Delaware Art Museums. It was one of those joyful love fests that happen all too rarely in theatre. He and I had developed two music-theatre pieces in tandem about Albert Einstein and were recently discussing how to mount a staging of his American Rivers, an original musical composition, two completed sections of which were heard in concert last year in Chicago.
Drury died at home on June 8, 2012, at the age of 78, after a prolonged battle with cancer. It is hard to believe he lost this fight for I had certainly put my money on him. I’d like to think somewhere he is fighting still. The world needs such a giant of a man.