By Robert Simonson
20 Dec 2011
Mr. Brown was long associated with the Negro Ensemble Company, acting alongside the likes of Frances Foster, Arthur French, Esther Rolle, Al Freeman Jr., Laurence Fishburne and L. Scott Caldwell, and performing the works of Alice Childress, Derek Wolcott, Joseph A. Walker, Lonne Elder III and Charles Fuller.
His first NEC production was 1968's God Is a (Guess What?). Other productions included An Evening of One Acts, Man Better Man, Ride a Black Horse, The Great Macdaddy, Waiting for Mongo, Eden, The Brownsville Raid, Nevis Mountain Dew, Plays From Africa, A Season to Unravel, Ceremonies in Dark Old Men and Lagrima del Diablo.
He won a Los Angeles Critics' Circle Award for best actor for his role of the patriarch of a Caribbean family who was encased entirely in an iron lung in Nevis Mountain Dew when the play traveled to the West Coast. "We see only the top of his head and the reflection of his face in a mirror attached to the iron lung," wrote Mel Gussow in the New York Times, "yet he manages to communicate a portrait of stern will and commanding presence. The actor does not try to make his characterization ingratiating. He makes us realize that even incapacitated, this man is heavy with pride."
With Joe Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival, he performed in Pericles in Central Park in 1974, Richard II in 1987, and The Winter's Tale in 1989. In the 1990s, he did several Shakespeares with Theatre for a New Audience.
On Broadway, he acted in Gore Vidal's Weekend and Robert Shaw's The Man in the Glass Booth (both 1968), the Negro Ensemble Company production of The River Niger, which began life Off-Broadway (1973) and the New York Shakespeare Festival's staging of The Black Picture Show (1975).
Graham Brown alo performed with Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater, of which company he was a founding member.
Mr. Brown's movie credits included Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" and "Clockers" as well as "The Muppets Take Manhattan."
Robert E. Brown was born in New York City and was a boxer for a time.
He is survived by a daughter, a grandson and a sister.