Jose Quintero, the Panama-born director whose work began in summer stock and escalated into a major American career that included legendary revivals of works by Eugene O'Neill, died of cancer in New York City Feb. 26. He was 74.
Mr. Quintero plowed fresh productions out of what had been considered fallow O'Neill soil, staging, most significantly, The Iceman Cometh in 1956. The production, at Circle in the Square, invited critics and audiences to look anew at O'Neill, who had died in 1953, and launched the career of Jason Robards Jr., who later starred with Colleen Dewhurst in Quintero's legendary staging of O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten (1973).
Mr. Quintero's other O'Neill projects include the original Broadway production of Long Day's Journey Into Night (1956) with Fredric March and Robards, Strange Interlude (1963), Hughie (1964), More Stately Mansions (1967), Anna Christie (1977) with Liv Ullmann, A Touch of the Poet (1977) with Robards and a revival of Long Day's Journey in 1988 with Dewhurst and Robards (playing the father role this time). Mr. Quintero's 1985-86 season revival of The Iceman Cometh was Tony-nominated for Best Revival and Best Director, in a year that had also seen Jonathan Miller's staging of Long Day's Journey Into Night (starring Jack Lemmon)
The previous season had seen a staging of Strange Interlude with Glenda Jackson, not directed by Quintero. A lauded London revival of The Iceman Cometh begins previews Mar. 29 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Would O'Neill be as well-known today without Mr. Quintero? In The New York Times Magazine in 1988, Quintero wrote of the landmark, 1956 Iceman: "It had been 10 years since any of O'Neill's works had been performed in America. He had been sentenced to oblivion, convicted of being dark, undistinguished and of no more than historical importance." Mr. Quintero won a Tony Award as Best Director for 1973's Moon for the Misbegotten. A kind of sequel to Long Day's Journey, in which the Tyrone family's dissipated son, James, finds refuge in a blowzy woman's arms, Moon (to those who witnessed it) showcased one of American theatre's most exciting director-actor teamings: Mr. Quintero, Ms. Dewhurst (who died in 1991) and Robards.
With Theodore Mann and others, Mr. Quintero was a co-founder of Circle in the Square, one of the major post-war theatres of what was to be known as the Off-Broadway movement. He was also an interpreter of Tennessee Williams' work, staging a 1952 revival of Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke starring the rising Geraldine Page.
Mr. Quintero, Mann and others formed a company called Loft Players and performed in outstate New York before returning to the city and starting Circle in the Square in a former nightclub in Greenwich Village's Sheridan Square. The venue's seating was in-the-round, thus "circle in the square."
By 1961, The New York Times reported, Circle in the Square mounted 21 productions, 17 directed by Mr. Quintero.
Mr. Quintero, born Jose Benjamin Quintero in 1924, studied at the University of California and the Goodman Theater Dramatic School in Chicago before coming to New York City. In his later years, although stricken with throat cancer that forced him to talk through an electronic voicebox, the director taught master classes around the country and worked with students at Florida State University. He lived in Sarasota, FL.
He is survived by companion Nicholas Tsacrios and a sister, Carmen, of Panama, according to The New York Times.