Douglas Langworthy, a dramaturg and translator, died on March 9. He was 61.
The staff of Denver Center Theatre Company, and the U.S. theatre community at large, were shocked and saddened to learn of the recent death of DCTC literary manager Douglas Langworthy. Doug took his own life, in an act that left co-workers and colleagues across the field dismayed, at a loss for an explanation, none having suspected that Doug suffered quietly from depression.
I worked closely with Doug over the past dozen years and shared an office with him. A self-effacing and private man, he was well-liked by colleagues at Denver Center, Theatre Communications Group, American Theatre magazine (where he worked for 3 years), Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA), and other organizations. He was passionate about theatre, and as we came to know Doug over time, we learned that he loved singing, and had joined the local Denver Gay Men’s Chorus. He was also a member of a number of book clubs, reading an impressive roster of titles old and new. Doug traveled throughout the year to theatre conferences and new-play festivals, and he worked with local theatres and writing groups. He and his husband Rex also traveled, entertained, and kept up with current television and movies, in an impressive slate of activities.
Doug was at heart a classicist. His office bookshelf held volumes of Shakespeare, Brecht, Plutarch, and Elizabethan history. He had earned an undergrad degree in German language and literature—he loved the German playwrights, was especially fond of Brecht, and had translated many of the plays of the German theatre. Unsurprisingly he was also Kurt Weill fan, and was tickled to find that he and I both owned Ute Lemper’s collection of Weill’s theatre songs.
Doug wrote some chamber opera libretti, including Larry Delinger’s Medea. His reworking of Brecht’s Good Person of Setzuan was produced during his tenure at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and more recently his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI was seen as part of the Play on! initiative there. He had hopes of finding a second production of his Good Person, yet he was seemingly not ambitious for recognition either as a writer or dramaturg—his mission, instead, was always to support and develop the playwrights he worked with.
By the time Doug joined us in the literary office at Denver Center in 2008, after a stint as staff dramaturg at OSF, he already had an impressive résumé, with a graduate degree in dramaturgy from Yale and years writing and editor for American Theatre. He joined DCTC’s associate artistic director and new-play development director, Bruce Sevy, and myself, in the role of literary manager. Our main mission was to solicit and read play submissions for our annual Colorado New Play Summit. Doug quietly slotted into our office and mission, bringing with him a roster of emerging playwrights and dramaturgs to add to our own. He steadily expanded his role at the theatre, hosting audience Q&As, overseeing the season study guides, searching out playwrights for commission, doing dramaturgical research for the season, and most important, working as a team member on the summit itself. Early on we had committed to doing professional productions of summit plays; finding great new work was paramount for us. Doug played a vital role, along with Sevy and his crew, in the exponentially growing success of the summit.
Doug and I didn’t always see eye to eye. He was drawn to plays with weight and significance, and when, for instance, Bruce and I suggested Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride for the summit, Doug initially deemed it “too light.” He later enthusiastically recanted when it proved to be an unprecedented hit for DCTC. He especially responded to plays with classical references, such as our commissioned The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson, or contemporary social commentary, such as Rogelio Martinez’s When Tang Met Laika. And then there were great days, as when we discovered plays like Sam Hunter’s The Whale, and took it on to workshop and premiere. A particular highlight of Doug’s Denver career was his dramaturgical work on DCTC’s production of Lynn Nottage’s Ruined; he made two trips to Uganda on a grant to meet with women there who had served as inspirations for the play’s characters, an assignment he found particularly exciting.
There’s much we don’t know about Doug’s life. But during the dozen years I worked closely with him, it never occurred to me that he was a possible suicide. I had volunteered many years earlier on a suicide hotline in Seattle, and had training in talking down people in trouble. Yet the reasons for Doug’s actions remain a tragic mystery to me and the rest of his colleagues. We never saw it coming.
Though essentially a private fellow, Doug made his influence felt throughout the Denver Center and far beyond. A huge number of playwrights and dramaturgs owe him an immense debt of gratitude for his encouragement and support. His passing leaves behind innumerable family, friends, and theatre people who honor and mourn him, not least myself and the Denver Center colleagues he worked alongside for so many years.
Chad Henry is literary associate at Denver Center Theatre Company.