Farewell to Ross Wetzsteon, theatre editor of the Village Voice newspaper. He died Feb. 19 of complications resulting from pneumonia. Funeral plans are still being set.
Wetzsteon, born in November 1932, joined the Voice in April 1966. "He served not only as a theatre critic and editor, but," says staffer Alissa Neil, "he was so much more and helped shape the Voice nearly since its inception [in 1955]."
The Voice made its theatre reputation by covering Off and Off-Off-Broadway in a way other, more mainstream papers did not. Michael Feingold is the journal's current chief theatre critic.
Currently, Miles Seligman has taken over the theatre pages' editorship, as he had during Wetzsteon's vacations and recent absences due to illness. One little-known fact: Wetzsteon was once the Voice's editor-in-chief -- a brief tenure that reportedly ended with him putting his fist through a window.
Fellow Voice critic Randy Gener was close to Wetzsteon and recalled, "He shaped my idea of what Off-Off-Broadway is supposed to be. For me he was a nurturing editor. One of the few people who truly allowed the writer to speak for himself. I interned for Ross for two years and was his research assistant on a couple of books, including, Eight Obie-Winning Plays and the new one he was working on, Republic Of Dreams. That one is about the life of Greenwich Village in the 50s and 60s, and he's been working on it all his life." For Gener, Wetzsteon's great value (aside from being a founder, with Jerry Tallmer, of the Obie Awards), lay in discovering major new talent. "He was their champion," said Gener. "People like Mamet, Shepard, Eric Bogosian, Wallace Shawn, Mabou Mines, Maria Irene Fornes. With Ross gone we're losing someone who had a real eye and ear for the playwriting masters and could spot great ones from the very beginning of their careers. Also, his love of theatre was very wide-ranging. He considered circuses, cabaret and performance art as part of the form."
Concluded Gener, "He was a gentle soul with a cheerful disposition. His writing was brisk and yet luxuriant, simple and slightly satirical but not afraid of complexity."
-- By David Lefkowitz