Joe Pintauro, Noted Playwright Was 87

Nov. 22, 1930 - May 29, 2018
Joe Pintauro, Nov. 22, 1930 - May 29, 2018

Joe Pintauro, a prolific playwright and fixture of the theatrical and literary worlds, died at home in Sag Harbor on May 29 in the company of his husband and partner of 40 years, Greg Therriault. He was 87.

The world premiere of his play “Men’s Lives,” an adaptation of Peter Matthiessen’s book about the fishermen of the South Fork, opened the first season of Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor in 1992. 

“That was a magical time,” recalled Mr. Therriault, “when Emma Walton, Steve Hamilton, and Sybil Christopher decided they were going to make a theater in Sag Harbor and chose Joe to write the first play based on ‘Men’s Lives.’ It was a very important time in Joe’s life, his artistic life, and his life here in the community.”

Mr. Therriault also noted the importance of “Raft of the Medusa,” which Mr. Pintauro wrote in 1992 in response to the AIDS epidemic. “Joe was very responsive to what was happening in the culture and tried to articulate for people not only what he thought but hopefully what they were thinking as well.” “Raft of the Medusa” was produced at the Minetta Lane Theater in Manhattan.

His many other plays include “Snow Orchid,” which was produced with Olympia Dukakis and Peter Boyle at Circle Rep in New York in 1982, and, in 1989, “Beside Herself,” which featured William Hurt, Calista Flockhart, and Lois Smith, also at Circle Rep.

Three of the works in “Metropolitan Operas,” his collection of 40 one-act plays, were adapted by Kevin Jeffers in “Salvation,” a contemporary musical theater piece that had its premiere at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill on May 25. 

Mr. Pintauro also wrote novels, poetry, short stories, and, during the past 10 years, exhibited his photographs, a selection of which, titled “Nunc et Semper,” was published in 2013. His awards include the 2007 Guild Hall Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in literary arts and the 2005 John Steinbeck Literary Award.

“Joe Pintauro was a true original,” Scott Schwartz, Bay Street Theater’s artistic director, said. “He was a great playwright whose work delved deep into the human condition and whose voice will continue to resonate and inspire.”

Joseph T. Pintauro was born in Ozone Park, Queens, on Nov. 22, 1930, to Aniello Pintauro and the former Carmela Iovino. He attended Manhattan College, earning a degree in advertising and marketing. While he was there, his mother was dying. “Death was a pure shock to me,” he said in an interview published in The Star in 2014. “I never expected it to come so soon in my life, so I began searching.”

The search led him to St. Jerome’s College in Ontario for a degree in philosophy, and to Our Lady of Angels, a seminary at Niagara University, to study theology. He was ordained in 1958 and assigned to a diocese in Brooklyn. 

“He was such a popular and charismatic priest that not only did people who had been his parishioners still keep in touch with him, he also saved lives and changed lives in a very important way,” Mr. Therriault said. “The diocese did not want him to leave, because he was very good at what he was doing.”

“He had gone to Peru and Chile and worked with the poor when the church was very much involved with liberation theology and very progressive. The confines of the church hierarchy were just too much for our Joe in terms of his creativity and his emotional life, and so he received a dispensation and left.” 

“State of Grace,” his second novel, published in 1983, was based on his experiences in Brooklyn and South America.

After leaving the priesthood, his continuing involvement in spiritual thought led to the “Trilogy of Belief” series, three volumes of poetry illustrated by the artist Sister Corita Kent and published by Harper & Row from 1968 to 1971.

“Those books were part of what was going on in the culture,” said Mr. Therriault. “They had an antiwar sentiment, they were very inclusive, they were stunning graphically, and they provided people access to a spiritual life in a different way from that of the traditional church.”

Mr. Pintauro subsequently attended Fordham University, where he earned a master’s degree in American literature, and worked for several major advertising agencies, including Young & Rubicam and Ted Bates. “He was a ‘Mad Man’ during those years,” Mr. Therriault said.

“I was struck most of all by his kindness,” said Kristen Lowman, an actress who read excerpts from “Metropolitan Operas” in 2015 with her husband, the actor Harris Yulin. “No matter that a room was crowded with people yackety-yacking, music blaring, Joe would look at you, be with you, with his deep lulling voice. Joe listened and he remembered.”

“I loved Joe Pintauro,” Mr. Yulin said. “Most everyone who had the opportunity to know him loved him. How could you not love Joe? He was generous beyond measure, a writer and photographer of real accomplishment, a person of infinite possibilities. Take him all in all, he was a man.”

In addition to Mr. Therriault, whom he married in December 2013, a niece, Barbara Lobosco, and two nephews, Richard Pintauro and Robert Pintauro, survive him. A brother, Anthony Pintauro, and a sister, Mildred Salvaggio, predeceased him.

“Joe changed my life in every way,” said Mr. Therriault. “I’m just grateful for the 40 years. I’m heartbroken.”

A funeral Mass was said yesterday at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Sag Harbor. A memorial service will take place in New York City at a later date.

Mr. Therriault suggested contributions in Mr. Pintauro’s memory to the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, P.O. Box 901, Wainscott 11975, or to the Sag Harbor Partnership, for the rebuilding of the Sag Harbor Cinema, P.O. Box 182, Sag Harbor 11963.