Cover art by Jim McMullan

Big Bill

A R Gurney
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BIG BILL captures tennis player William Tilden’s turbulent life in a series of scenes that shift back and forth in time. Performed on a set that resembles a tennis arena, the play illuminates the sportsman’s distinguished career, extravagant style, personal travails, and, ultimately, his calamitous downfall. A fascinating look at the glory of sport, the power of fame, and the anguish of being an outcast.

Production Info

Cast: 5 total (1 female, 4 male)
Full Length Drama (about 100 minutes)
Single Set
Contemporary Costumes

Press Quotes

“BIG BILL is one of A R Gurney’s most affecting plays. When Gurney began writing in the early ’70s — the era of Rabe, Babe and Bullins — playwrights were supposed to do quasi-Marxist screeds. His portraits of WASP America seemed out of synch until the early ’80s, when THE DINING ROOM made people realize the deep resonance of his work. These days, the authorized topic is homosexuality. Again, Gurney has followed his own path. Although his BIG BILL is about one of the most important tennis players of the 20th century, Bill Tilden, who happened to be a homosexual, Gurney has a deeper focus — the struggle of a man to reconcile the most rigorous WASP standards with sexual inclinations that do not yield to any abstract code. Tilden’s high standards are illustrated in the first scene, when we see him outraged at a linesman’s ruling — in his favor. Tilden, an athlete of unusual prowess and grace, was also, alas, vain. This led him into a ludicrous career on the stage. His sexual tendencies — his attraction to teenagers — led to his ultimate decline. Gurney depicts this sad trajectory in short, pungent scenes, alternately comic and poignant.” —Howard Kissel, Daily News

“BIG BILL is A R Gurney’s impressionistic, jumpy, jaunty biographical play about Bill Tilden, the first tennis superstar, who won zillions of titles in the ’20s, maintaining at great cost his enforced status as an amateur until his death in 1953. Like many players then, Tilden came from money — in this case, a rich, old family in Philadelphia. He was an active, though closeted, homosexual, surrounding himself with young ballboys (with whom his relationships varied) and picking up young hustlers, which got him into repeated trouble with the law … In this short play, Gurney simply presents the story of a damaged but gifted man who never grew up, alongside the absurdities of L A law. On the whole, though, it makes for a lovely theatrical experience.” —Donald Lyons, New York Post

“In BIG BILL … A R Gurney elegantly considers the cataclysmically unfortunate timing of ’20s tennis legend Bill Tilden … Gurney … has returned to his specialty, the American WASP, with renewed focus and expanded vision … we are taken back and forth through the buoyant ups and dignified downs of this complex and, ultimately, inspirational character … Tilden died alone, in shame, ignored by the tennis association. Gurney imagines a big, appreciative send-off, and finally gives him one here.” —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 6/30/2005
Pages 80
ISBN 9780881452341

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 produced by Williamstown Theater Festival and then Lincoln Center Theater, New York

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