Alan Philip Gross (1947-2023)
Alan Philip Gross - prolific Chicago playwright, teacher, author and poet - passed away August 25, 2023 at the age of 76.
Born in Chicago and raised in Skokie, Alan graduated from Evanston Township High School before earning his journalism degree from the University of Missouri. After college, he worked in improvisational theater with Byrne Piven, Del Close and Paul Sills. In an attempt to merge those improvisational techniques with the structure of the “well-made play,” he wrote his first play, Lunching, premiered at famed lynchpin of early Chicago theater The Body Politic in 1977. A yuppie comedy of manners, directed by the veteran actor Mike Nussbaum, Lunching was a huge hit, propelling Alan into a stratosphere of fame, if not fortune. Reviewers compared him to Neil Simon. “It was a funny play, but it also had some bite to it,” remembers Richard Christiansen, the former drama critic at the Chicago Tribune. “It was well written and also well paced and staged by Mike. At the time, Alan’s name as a local playwright was second only to David Mamet’s.” Eventually Lunching moved to the Drury Lane Theatre in Water Tower Place, becoming one of the first Off-Loop shows to make the transfer to a larger, commercial theatre. Subsequent plays included The Phone Room, La Brea Tarpits, The Man in 605, The Houseguest, Morning Call and The Secret Life of American Poets.
After a self-described-disastrous screenwriting stint in Hollywood in the 1990s, Alan returned to playwriting and Chicago with High Holidays, and with the encouragement of Goodman Artistic Director, Robert Falls, the dark comedy premiered on the Owen Stage at Goodman in 2009. His play Push Comes to Shove was featured in a staged reading at Indiana University, and he went on to teach playwrighting at Columbia College Chicago. he was also a thrice published children’s author as well as a published poet, being awarded the Robert Frost Festival Poetry Award in 2008. His poetry has also been included in the leading English language poetry magazine Modern Haiku, the Chicago Quarterly Review and After Hours Press.
In 2009, Alan told Chicago Magazine: “It’s lonely to be a playwright, but people think you’re profound. I was a greeting card writer, and people thought I was foolish. I was a copywriter, and people scowled at me. When I wrote for newspapers or magazines, people wanted to have a drink with me. Being a playwright is best.”
Alan is survived by his beloved wife of 45 years (partner for 50) Norma Jean Gross; and his brother Gary Gross. He precedes in death his parents Melvin and Shirlee Marks Gross. To celebrate Alan’s life, the family requests that you make a donation to the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois (www.nkfi.org), which facilitated the kidney transplant Al received from his wife.