The first line from Joe Pintauro’s world premiere of Men’s Lives was the first line spoken on the Bay Street stage when the theater opened its doors to the public on July 29, 1992. Pintauro’s words captured the hearts of the many who had come to the East End to make “a little hideout of this place in the dunes,” hearts that were saddened on May 29 when the well-loved playwright, poet, and author died at the Sag Harbor home he shared with his partner, Greg Therriault.
Pintauro may be best known on the East End for his adaptation of Peter Matthiessen’s book about the plight of the baymen, but other plays also received attention along with local (and New York City) productions, like Raft of the Medusa, Snow Orchid, and By The Sea, By The Sea, By The Beautiful Sea, a trilogy written in conjunction with Terrence McNally and Lanford Wilson.
It was only on May 25 that the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill mounted a world premiere production of three of Pintauro’s one-acts, Salvation, from his work Metropolitan Operas, set to music by composer Kevin Jeffers.
Besides his plays, novels, and poetry, Pintauro was also a skilled photographer, publishing a limited edition art book, Nunc et Semper, filled with the photos he had taken of Venice’s Piazzo San Marco over the years.
In the book, he wrote: “We who live in the present, having struggled through our own times of hopes realized and abandoned, stories of our youth and what became of us…How we believed those early years would fade and we would live in a bright new world. But now we look back at all we lost and it stings us with longing, though it brings you to mind, and in you, my darling one, an old, old faith lives and seems now, everlasting.”
His photographs have been shown in local galleries as well as being prized by collectors.
In his younger days, Pintauro attended college and then seminary, followed by six years spent as a radical priest during the Vietnam War. He joined underground Catholic organizations, and volunteered for TECHO, a non-profit that was helping farmers in Latin America.
But when he responded to a Village Voice ad for playwrights, his early work, A, My Name is Alice, was chosen by Dustin Hoffman, who directed it, for a production featuring 10 new short plays. From there, he left the priesthood and became a fulltime published writer, with his novel Cold Hands being featured in The New York Times as one of its best picks of 1980.
Pintauro, who was born November 22, 1930, had visited the East End as a child, venturing from Ozone Park, Queens, with his family, and the happy times he had spent here stayed with him. He settled in Sag Harbor in the late 1960s, purchasing two matching farmhouses on the same property with money he had earned from his published poetry.
He and Therriault, a former potter-turned-psychotherapist who is now manager of the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum, divided their time between Sag Harbor, Key West, and Manhattan, eventually spending most of their time on the South Fork. Pintauro and Therriault were frequent theatergoers and gallery attendees, passionate supporters of the arts on the East End, and generous listeners, garnering many friends who are mourning Pintauro’s passing.
“Joe was a consummate playwright, a gifted poet, and a cherished friend,” said Emma Walton Hamilton, Bay Street’s cofounder. “We will be forever grateful to him for giving us the beautiful play that opened Bay Street Theatre’s doors so long ago — Men’s Lives — along with so many other wonderful plays and memories of time spent together. He will be sorely missed.”
A celebration of his life will be held at Saint Andrew0 Catholic Church in Sag Harbor on Wednesday, June 6, at 11 AM.