David Wheeler, Major Figure in Boston Theatre, Dies at 86

Obituaries   David Wheeler, Major Figure in Boston Theatre, Dies at 86
David Wheeler, a stage director, educator and important figure in the Boston theatre community, died Jan. 3 of a combination of respiratory failure and heart failure. He was 86.

From 1963 to 1975, he was artistic director of the Theatre Company of Boston, which he founded. At the time, is was one of only two resident theatre companies in Boston, along with the Charles Playhouse. During his tenure at TCB, Wheeler directed more than 80 productions, working with then-unknown actors such as Larry Bryggman, John Cazale, Stockard Channing, Blythe Danner, Robert DeNiro, Robert Duvall, Hector Elizondo, Spalding Gray, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jon Voight, Ralph Waite and James Woods.

Mr. Wheeler's connection with Pacino was particularly strong. He directed the actor twice on Broadway, in David Rabe's Vietnam play The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel in 1977, and Shakespeare's Richard III in 1979. Both productions originated at Theatre Company of Boston.

In 1984 Mr. Wheeler joined the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA, as resident director, where he directed more than 20 productions, including works by Pinter, Shaw, Beckett, as well as Robert Brustein's Nobody Dies on Friday and David Mamet's adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, with Christopher Walken as Astrov and Lindsay Crouse.

At A.R.T. he had most recently directed Harold Pinter's No Man's Land in 2007, starring Paul Benedict and Max Wright. The production won Elliot Norton Awards for Wheeler for Best Director and for Max Wright as Best Actor.

Mr. Wheeler was also a significant educator, teaching directing and theatre at Harvard University, Boston University and Brandeis University. One of his former students was Matt Damon. One day, Damon brought in his friend Ben Affleck to perform scenes in class from a screenplay they were working on. It would become "Good Will Hunting," the 1997 film that launched the two actors' careers. He is survived by his wife, Bronia Wheeler, and his son, Lewis D. Wheeler.

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