Friday, December 26, 2014

R.I.P. 2014

Mike Nichols began as a comic writer and performer, and achieved fame as a film director.  But in between he became a stage director, and continued to direct Broadway plays during his film career, winning 9 Tony Awards.  He directed several Neil Simon plays, George C. Scott in Nichols' translation of Uncle Vanya,  and in 1984, had two major first-run plays on Broadway simultaneously: Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing and David Rabe's Hurlyburly.  I saw both of those productions that year.  And of course, his film career began with Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He also brought Angels in America to the screen.

Philip Seymour Hoffman acted on the New York stage before and during his film career, winning three Tony nominations for revivals of plays by Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller and Sam Shepard.  In the offbeat 2008 film Synecdoche, New York he played a theatre director who uses the money from a genius grant to mount a production that is being reworked in rehearsals for decades.  Meanwhile he responds to the many ways in which his life unravels, including a fatal illness.  He has the perfect last words for an obsessed theatre director: a final revelation that he knows how to do this play.

Robin Williams was a comic genius as a stand-up and television performer, and he was an accomplished film actor.  But he also acted on the stage, most notably opposite Steve Martin in a 1988 Broadway production of Waiting for Godot.

Marian Seldes acted in New York from 1948 to 2012, and was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1995.  She appeared in premieres of several Edward Albee plays, winning her first Tony for A Delicate Balance.  She was also a legendary acting teacher for several succeeding generations.

Also in that production of A Delicate Balance and also elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995 was another long-time legend, Elaine Stritch.  She acted in major plays both on New York and London stages, and became known as a show-stopping singer in musicals, including in the original cast of Company.  She made many television appearances, and performed in several one-woman shows.

Eli Wallach studied with Sanford Meisner (as did Seldes) and also Lee Strasberg, and helped to form the Actors Studio.  Known for many character parts in movies, he acted on stage from 1945 to 2000. He was an active champion for the American stage, appearing in several first productions of Tennessee Williams.

Among her many accomplishments as a film actor, playwright, screenwriter, poet and activist, Ruby Dee was the first black woman to play leading roles (Kate, Cordelia) in the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut.  She starred in the breakthrough play Raisin in the Sun on Broadway and on screen, and continued to pioneer in television (prime time, soap operas, documentaries, etc.) for new generations of African Americans, especially women.

Bob Hoskins was a unique and fearless actor in British and American films, handling comedy, drama and song and dance.  He also created a memorable and much imitated Iago for Jonathan Miller's Othello.

Mickey Rooney's long career as a movie and television actor began with the role of Puck in the 1935 film of A Midsummer Night's Dream, a role he had played on the stage that same year at age 13.

Hollywood stars James Garner and Lauren Bacall began their acting apprenticeship on the New York stage. Bacall returned to Broadway in the 60s and over the next decades, winning two Tonys. German-born actor and Academy Award winner Maximillian Schell acted on stage in Germany, famed there for his Hamlet.

British film director and actor Richard Attenborough began as a stage actor.  One of distinguished film director Paul Mazursky's films was a modern adaptation of The Tempest.  Towards the end of his ground-breaking film-making career, Alain Renais adapted plays by Alan Ayckbourn and Jean Anouilh for the screen.

Many lesser known dramatic storytellers passed away in 2014, among them: actor Eddie Lawrence, who played in the 1950s New York production of The Threepenny Opera; film actor Juanita Moore, British actor Joseph Pasco, musical lyricist Sandy Wilson, actors Pauline Wagner (age 103), Leslie Carlson, Meshach Taylor, Nancy Malone, Beverly Long, Mona Freeman, Joan Loring, Perlita Neilson, Helena Bliss, Wendy Hughes, Phyllis Frelich, Marc Platt (age 100), Carmen Zapata, John Horsley (age 96), Christopher Jones, Rene Ricard.

The theatre also lost playwright, actor and director Roberto Gomez Bolanos, playwright Peter Whelon and drama critic Richard Eder.  May they rest in peace, and new generations carry on their work into the future.

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