René Buch, the co-founder and artistic director of Off-Broadway's Repertorio Español, has passed away at 94. The artistic leader, playwright, and director died April 20 at his home in New York.
Repertorio Español, which has operated out of its East 27th Street address since 1972, has maintained a steady mission throughout the years: to introduce the best of Latin-American, Spanish, and Hispanic-American theatre to New York City in quality productions. Co-founded by the late Gilberto Zaldívar and Mr. Buch in 1969, the theatre has produced Spanish-language theatre Off-Broadway for more than 50 years and nurtured and supported the careers of a number of Latinx playwrights, including Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz. Its long-running production of Carmen Rivera’s La Gringa holds the record for the longest-running Off-Broadway Spanish-language play.
Mr. Buch began his career as a writer in Cuba. Born December 19, 1925, in Santiago, he won the National Prize from Patronato del Teatro after entering his first playwriting competition, at age 20, with Del agua de la vida [From the Waters of Life.] In Cuba, he was the founder and director of Pro Arte de Oriente’s Theatre Department and Havana’s Accion Teatral de Autores. There, he produced new works by Cuban playwrights while earning his doctorate in law from Universidad de La Habana.
In 1949, Mr. Buch moved to the U.S. to study at the Yale School of Drama, where he taught Spanish language and literature while pursuing his MFA. After graduating, he was associate editor for the Arts at Visión magazine and, simultaneously, editor of the cultural section at El Diario La Prensa. He was then editor for the Spanish edition of the Journal of the United Nations.
By 1968, he was back in the theatre with his production of Pedro Calderón de la Barca's La dama duende at the newly formed Greenwich Mews Spanish Theatre. The production earned him awards for Best Director and Best Work in Spanish by the Association of Latin Entertainment Critics of New York. Three years later, Mr. Buch and Zaldívar joined forces with Robert Weber Federico and renamed the Greenwich Mews Spanish Theatre as Repertorio Español (Federico has been executive producer since 2005).
At Repertorio Español, Mr. Buch directed an impressive array of dramatic works, ranging from 17th Century classics to new, Latinx theatre. Around New York and the country, he also directed at Classic Stage Company, the Pearl Theater, The Milwaukee Rep, Albany’s Capital Rep, La Compañía de Albuquerque, Washington’s Folger Theatre, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and San Diego's Old Globe.
Mr. Buch is the recipient of an Obie Award for Artistic Trajectory (1989), a Drama Desk Award for Artistic Achievement (1996), an ENCORE Award for forty years of Sustained Excellence in Management by the Arts & Business Council of New York (2007), and Theatre Communications Group’s Theatre Practitioner Award (2008). He was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Obie in 2011 and in 2012 was bestowed with The Order of Isabella the Catholic by King Juan Carlos I of Spain for his contributions to Spain-U.S. cultural relations.
Throughout his life, the artist’s creativity was not only displayed in the theatre, but also as a lawyer, journalist, and painter. He continued to work as an editor beyond his post-grad years, later becoming head of Spanish creative copy for J. Walter Thompson, as well as a book editor for Reader’s Digest.
A memorial service for Mr. Buch will be announced as soon as the public is able to gather again. His family and friends would like to extend their sincerest gratitude to all the health and care workers during these difficult times.