He adapted 'A Lesson Before Dying'

Off Broadway playwright Romulus Linney, who adapted “A Lesson Before Dying” for the stage, died Saturday in Germantown, N.Y., of lung cancer. The father of actress Laura Linney was 80.

Based on Ernest J. Gaines’ contempo novel, “Dying” centered on a man sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit.

The playwright was an Off Broadway and regional theater standard, and his work was showcased in a 1992 season at the Signature Theater.

Linney’s play covered a wide range of topics: “The Sorrows of Frederick” was about the Prussian king; “Childe Byron” centered on the poet Byron and his estrangement from his daughter; “2″ revolved around leading Nazi Hermann Goering. But most of his plays were set in and around Appalachia, where he spent most of his youth: “Tennessee,” “Holy Ghosts,” “Sand Mountain,” “Gint” and

“Heathen Valley,” which was based on his novel.

A graduate of Ohio’s Oberlin College, Linney did a two-year stint in the Army and then went to the Yale School of Drama.

Besides “Heathen Valley,” he wrote the novel “Slowly, by Thy Hand Unfurled” and compilation “Jesus Tales.”

Only one of his plays was staged on Broadway — 1972′s “The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks.” starring John Berry, who also directed. Plot concerned a crime in opposition to President Nixon’s war policies in a Hawaiian barracks. It closed after seven previews and five perfs at Anta Playhouse.

At the time of his death, Linney was working on an opera adaptation of “The Sorrows of Frederick” with Scott Wheeler for the Met and Lincoln Theater.

Linney won two Obie awards (one for sustained excellence in playwriting), two National Critics Awards and three Drama-Logue Awards. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which bestowed upon him the Gold Medal for Drama, among other awards. He was a member of artists community the Corp. of Yaddo in New York state.

In addition to Laura and another daughter, survivors include his wife, Laura Callahan. Donations may be made in Linney’s name to the Signature Theater Company.

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