Israel Hicks, Who Made History Directing Wilson Cycle, Dies at 66

Obituaries   Israel Hicks, Who Made History Directing Wilson Cycle, Dies at 66
Israel Hicks, a director who made history in 2009, when he directed the final work in August Wilson's entire ten-play, ten-decade exploration of the black experience in America for the Denver Center Theatre Company, died July 3 in New York of prostate cancer. He was 66.

Mr. Hicks was a staple at the Tony Award-winning Denver Center Theatre Company, where he directed more than 20 plays since 1990. He was scheduled to direct the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined there in 2011.

The Wilson cycle was initiated in 1990 by preceding artistic director Donovan Marley and completed in 2009 under Kent Thompson. After Mr. Hicks first directed Fences in 1990, Marley asked him if he would like to direct more Wilson plays. Mr. Hicks recalled answering "'Hell, yeah.' Who would say no to that?" He ended up directing every single Wilson work over the course of two decades. His final Wilson production at Denver was Radio Golf in 2009.

As a way of showing his kinship with the plays, most of which were set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Mr. Hicks often wore a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap.

"It's a huge deal because any commitment over that period of time is extremely rare in the American theatre today," Thompson told the Denver Post. Actor Harvy Blanks added, "It has to rank up with the greatest achievements in the history of the American theatre."

Mr. Hicks called the Wilson cycle "the history of a culture," in his final Denver Post interview. Every Wilson play asks big questions like, "Will we get bogged down by the history, or do we move forward?" Israel Hicks was born in Orangeburg, SC, and was named after his father. He grew up in the Brooklyn projects in the rough and tumble 1960s, studied at Boston University and got his graduate degree from New York University. He also received a law degree from Harvard. He was also artistic director of Ebony Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles and chairman of the theatre program at Rutgers. He also taught at Carnegie-Mellon and other acting conservatories, and was slated to direct this October at Juilliard.

In his varied career, he also played professional football for the New England Patriots and ran his own restaurant.

Mr. Hicks had health problems in the past, but never let them get in the way of his work. He directed an all-black A Streetcar Named Desire on two surgically repaired knees. And he was in the hospital recovering from a quadruple heart bypass when A Selfish Sacrifice opened.

He is survived by his second wife, Renee Harriston-Hicks. He was preceded in death by first wife, Catherine, and daughter, Victoria.

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