Critic, Director and Playwright Charles Marowitz Dies at 80

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06 May 2014

Charles Marowitz
Charles Marowitz

Charles Marowitz, a playwright, director and critic with a reputation for avant garde approaches in production, and outspokenness in his writing and manner, died in Agoura Hills May 2 from complications of Parkinson's disease, the L.A. Times reported. He was 80.

Mr. Marowitz was a latter-day example of a type once common in the American theatre: the all-around theatre professional. He directed, he wrote plays, he lead theatre companies, he wrote dramatic criticism and books of theory.

Following service in the Korean War, he attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Antonin Artaud and Vsevolod Meyerhold were early influences on his view of what the theatre could be. Following school, he spent two decades in London, during which he worked with director Peter Brook and co-founded with Thelma Holt, in 1968, the Open Space Theatre. The troupe, which began in a basement on Tottenham Court Road in London, had Mr. Marowitz's adaptation of The Merchant of Venice as its inaugural production.

Another production, Exit Music, began with the audience coming into the theatre and being denied their seats. They were then put on a bus which drove them around London, taking them to various prearranged happenings. The company closed in 1980. He wrote about these experiences in his book "Burning Bridges," published in 1990.

In 1981 he moved to Los Angeles. In California he worked with the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre and, in 1990, founded the Malibu Stage Company, where he served as artistic director for 12 years. As was his tendency, he christened the new company with a production of a play of his own, Stage Fright.



He was free in his many adaptations of the classics, particularly Shakespeare, which he felt was artistically up for grabs. His rather grandly titled book "The Marowitz Shakespeare" was an anthology of seven of his adaptations of The Bard's works.

"In the late 60s, through the work of people like William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, there was a strong movement towards cut-ups and collage," he said in a 2009 interview. "It drew me, and many other playwrights and directors, into its net. I became interested in disassembling classics – mainly the plays of Shakespeare – to see if in reassembling them one could convey dramatic nuances that added to those already contained in the original work."

He was critical, however, of other directors' liberal takes on the canon. "What I dislike in the theatre is the idiotic attempt to impose alien contemporary ideas onto the works of William Shakespeare," he said, "in order to make them more ‘topical’ but which serve only to dilute the original work...Placing Richard III in Nazi Germany, for example, bastardizes Shakespeare’s original work."

He landed a single play on Broadway, Sherlock's Last Case, starring Frank Langella. It ran for 124 performances in 1987. His most recent play, Murdering Marlowe, premiered in Los Angeles and was published by Dramatists Play Service in 2005.

As a critic, he was known for his sharp tongue and uncompromising appraisals. (He once called David Mamet's book on acting "True and False," "fatuous, sophistic, grandstanding and moronic.") His criticisms could be found in The New York Times, The Times of London, TheaterWeek, where he was a regular contributor, The Village Voice and American Theatre. He was the lead critic on the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner until it ceased publication. He was also the co-founder of Encore Magazine, which was published between 1954 and 1965. It was through Encore that he met Brook, who was also a contributor.

Born on Jan. 26, 1934, Charles Marowitz was the son of Polish Jewish immigrants and grew up speaking Yiddish. He caught the theatre bug early, forming a company while still a teenager.