David Berry, whose play The Whales Of August, about two elderly sisters living on the coast of Maine became a 1987 film vehicle for Lillian Gish and Bette Davis, died December 16 at his home in Brooklyn. He was 73.
Berry, a Vietnam War veteran, also was the author of G.R. Point, a somber drama about soldiers working at a graves registration center in the war zone, where they placed the remains of dead combatants in body bags for return home. The short-lived 1979 Broadway production starred Michael Moriarty and Howard Rollins Jr., and was staged by William Devane.
Both works were inspired by scenes from Berry’s own life. The Whales Of August recalled his time as a boy spending summers with two aunts who lived together in a coastal cottage. The play was developed at resident theaters in Baltimore and Providence, Rhode Island, and at the off-Broadway WPA Theater. The film, for which Berry wrote the screenplay, was directed by Lindsay Anderson and also featured Vincent Price and Ann Sothern. It would be Gish’s last film.
“With its two beautiful, very different, very characteristic performances by Miss Gish and Miss Davis, who, together, exemplify American films from 1914 to the present, Lindsay Anderson’s Whales of August is a cinema event, though small in scale and commonplace in detail,” wrote Vincent Canby in his New York Times review of the film. “It’s as moving for all the history it recalls as for anything that happens on the screen. Yet what happens on the screen is not to be underrated.”
Berry enlisted in the Army after graduating from Wesleyan University, at the height of the Vietnam War. The grimly realistic G.R. Point was presented off-Broadway by the Phoenix Theatre in a production that starred John Heard and Joe Morton. Berry won an Obie Award for distinguished playwriting, and Heard for his performance. A subsequent production at Baltimore’s Center Stage transferred to Broadway’s Playhouse Theatre, owned at the time by Paramount Pictures, for a run that lasted one month.
Berry continued writing while teaching at several institutions, including the National Theatre Institute in Waterford, Conn., and most recently, the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Survived by his sister, Barbara Hasson-Brown; his brother, Richard Hasson; and a stepdaughter, Julia Lee Barclay-Morton.