Cover art by Jim McMullan

Ancestral Voices

A R Gurney
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Set in Buffalo, New York in the 1940s, ANCESTRAL VOICES is a bittersweet story, perceived through the eyes of young Eddie, whose family is turned inside out when his grandmother unexpectedly divorces his grandfather in order to marry his grandfather’s best friend. Simultaneously, the outside world is undergoing temporal changes, and we follow the family through the ensuing decades of war and social upheaval. Written to be performed informally, with actors reading from scripts.

Production Info

Cast: 5 total (2 female, 3 male)
Full Length Drama (about 90 minutes)
Minimal Set Requirements
Contemporary Costumes

Press Quotes

“If the family is the key theme of American drama, A R Gurney’s ANCESTRAL VOICES: A FAMILY STORY is a beautiful chamber work in that great tradition. The short play is staged as a concert work, with five performers sitting on chairs in front of music stands, where they’ve laid their scripts. The five are playing members — grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, son — of a rich WASP family in Buffalo NY between 1935 and 1942, with a brief coda from the 1960s. The son, Eddie, who goes from age eight to twelve, is our narrator, guide and point of view … This lovely play unites the microcosm of family to the macrocosm of America at war. On Eddie’s first date he brings his girl a paper ‘war-sage.’ It’s also about something in between — a city. It’s an elegy for Buffalo, a once-glorious place whose fortunes are declining. The texture of life in Buffalo is heartbreakingly evoked in ways reminiscent of The Magnificent Ambersons … This is a magical play, not a mere exercise in uncritical nostalgia, but a nuanced reminiscence full of time and change and loss and suffering — as well as joy.” —Donald Lyons, New York Post

“… A R Gurney’s genteel and gently comic ANCESTRAL VOICES … leaving exceedingly pleasant memories in its wake. Mr Gurney’s play is performed in the manner of his popular epistolary drama LOVE LETTERS, with the cast reading from scripts while seated on a bare stage … The hybrid Mr Gurney has produced is as elegantly faceted as a marquise diamond. What distinguishes the tales is the rueful maturity with which it is recounted by a man gazing back over the decades. The characters feel like fully fleshed-out cousins of the denizens of the novels of John Cheever, to whom the dramatist is often compared. The production is not dramatic in the strictest sense, either; the flare-ups in this confrontation-averse clan flicker only for instants. Yet isn’t that the way a lot of families let off steam?” —Peter Marks, The New York Times

“… with ANCESTRAL VOICES, the result is a wistful, colorful companion piece to LOVE LETTERS. That two-character epistolary goldmine, of course, has been similarly read on stages, cruise ships and wherever pairs of actors hunger for quick-study, quality work. Given the new one’s larger cast requirements, it is not likely to duplicate the phenomenal popularity of its predecessor. The story of unraveling expectations in a society that considered itself a constant, however, is no less captivating a human document of recent but very foreign times.” —Linda Winer, Newsday

About the Author


  • A R Gurney

    A R ("Pete") Gurney's work has been produced in New York at Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theater Club, Playwrights Horizons, and Primary Stages. Among his plays are THE DINING ROOM, THE COCKTAIL HOUR, LOVE LETTERS, SYLVIA, FAR EAST, THE FOURTH WALL, and BIG BILL. Four of his more political plays — O JERUSALEM, MRS FARNSWORTH, SCREEN PLAY, and POST MORTEM — have been produced at the Flea Theater in Tribeca. Gurney also wrote several published novels, as well as the libretto for Michael Torke's opera Strawberry Fields, presented by the New York City Opera. A former Professor of Literature at M I T, he was elected in 2005 to the Theater Hall of Fame and in 2006 to The American Academy of Arts and Letters. He passed away in June 2017. Audio Interview [audioplayer file="//" titles="Leonard Lopate Interviews A R Gurney" artists="" bg="434343"]

About the Book

Book Information

Publisher BPPI
Publication Date 6/1/2000
Pages 60
ISBN 9780881451719

Special Notes

Special Notes

Licensees are required to include the original stage producers credits in the following form on the title page in all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play and in all advertising in which the full cast appears in size of type not less than ten percent (10%) of the size of the title of the Play:

Originally performed at Lincoln Center Theater, New York

The following must appear within all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play:
Ancestral Voices is produced
by special arrangement with Broadway Play Publishing Inc, NYC


Upcoming and Recent Productions


6/4/2018 – 6/4/2018
Theater Breaking Through Barriers
New York, NY


2/22/2024 – 2/23/2024
Forfar Dramatic Society
Forfar, United Kingdom

12/18/2022 – 12/18/2022
Weaverville Community Center
Weaverville, NC

2/28/2020 – 3/1/2020
Laurel, NY

9/27/2019 – 9/29/2019
Brevard Little Theatre
Brevard, NC

6/7/2019 – 6/9/2019
Asheville Community Theatre
Asheville, NC

3/11/2019 – 3/11/2019
The Century Association
New York, NY

8/17/2017 – 8/27/2017
Actors And Theatre Arts Guild
Georgetown, TX

2/10/2017 – 2/10/2017
Dorset Players, Inc.
Dorset, VT

12/24/2016 – 12/24/2016
St Peters By The Sea Episcopal Church
Morro Bay, CA