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LI playwright Joe Pintauro dies at 87

Sag Harbor playwright Joe Pintauro in an undated

Sag Harbor playwright Joe Pintauro in an undated photo. Credit: Broadway Play Publishing Inc.

Joe Pintauro, a former priest who became a prolific playwright and author, died on May 29 at his Sag Harbor home. He was 87 and had prostate cancer, according to his husband, Greg Therriault.

Pintauro’s play “Men’s Lives,” a searing chronicle of the struggle of Long Island’s baymen after the state basically eliminated their livelihood by banning the age-old technique of net fishing, was the opening mainstage production at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater in 1992. Billy Joel was among those who protested the legislation, but “no act of civil disobedience could speak as eloquently as Joe Pintauro’s characters,” wrote Newsday’s Steve Parks in his review of the work.

“He was always connecting with the people — no matter what form that took,” said Bay Street’s executive director, Tracy Mitchell, noting that the theater revived the play, based on a book by Peter Matthiessen, to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2012. “He was a true artist, including work as a novelist, painter and photographer in addition to his playwriting talent,” said Mitchell, “so his creativity will live on and shine forever.”

Pintauro was born Nov. 22, 1930, in Queens and grew up there and in East Northport. By the time he’d graduated from Manhattan College in the Bronx, he’d decided to become a priest, but he grew restless and left the priesthood to pursue his writing outside the confines of the church.

Among Pintauro’s many other plays was “Heaven and Earth,” based on a book by former Newsday writer and editor Steve Wick, about a North Fork farm family trying to preserve its way of life that had its world premiere at Bay Street in 1997. In 1995, Pintauro joined Lanford Wilson and Terrence McNally in writing three short plays about people on a beach (not necessarily one on Long Island) at different times of the day in the Bay Street production “By the Sea, by the Sea, by the Beautiful Sea.”

Reed Birney headlined Pintauro’s romantic comedy “Murder by Chocolate” at Guild Hall in East Hampton in 1995, and Olympia Dukakis, Peter Boyle, William Hurt and Lois Smith starred in his plays at Circle Rep in Manhattan. Pintauro’s AIDS drama “Raft of the Medusa” was also done in Manhattan, at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Only a few days before his death, the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill debuted three one-acts, “Salvation,” taken from Pintauro’s collection of 40 short plays called “Metropolitan Operas.”

A funeral Mass for Pintauro was celebrated Wednesday at St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church in Sag Harbor, with a memorial service planned for later in Manhattan. Donations in his memory can be made to the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons or the Sag Harbor Partnership’s efforts to rebuild the Sag Harbor Cinema.

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