Robert Brustein

Robert Brustein

1927 – 2023

As founding director of the Yale Repertory and American Repertory Theaters, Robert Brustein supervised well over two hundred productions, acting in eight and directing twelve. He wrote eleven adaptations for the American Repertory Theater and was the author of many books on theater and society. Mr. Brustein also served for twenty years as director of the Loeb Drama Center, was a Professor in Harvard’s English Department, was a Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University, and drama critic for The New Republic. He was inducted as a member in to the American Theatre Hall of Fame, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received numerous awards including the George Polk Award in Journalism, the Commonwealth (Massachusetts) Award for Organizational Leadership, and the Eugene O’Neill Foundation’s Tao House Award for serving the American theater with distinction, and the National Medal of the Arts.

At A.R.T., his produciton of Six Characters in Search of an Author won the Boston Theatre Award for Best Production of 1996. His play Demons, which was broadcast on WGBH radio in 1993, had its stage world premiere as part of the A.R.T. New Stages. His play Nobody Dies on Friday was given its world premiere in the same series and was presented at the Singapore Festival of Arts and the Pushkin Theatre in Moscow. His play Spring Forward, Fall Back was performed in 2006 at Theater J in Washington, D.C., and at the Vineyard Playhouse; The English Channel was produced in 2007 in Boston and at the Vineyard Playhouse, and played at the Abingdon Theatre in the fall of 2008, receiving a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize.

Brustein also wrote Shlemiel the First, based on the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer and set to traditional klezmer music, which was directed and choreographed by David Gordon. After the original presentation in 1994 at A.R.T. and in Philadelphia at the American Music Theatre Festival, which co-produced the show, Shlemiel the First was revived several times in Cambridge and subsequently played at the Lincoln Center Serious Fun Festival, the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, and toured theaters in Florida and in Stamford, Connecticut. The play has also been produced at Theater J in Washington, DC. His short plays Poker Face, Chekhov on Ice, Divestiture, AnchorBimbo, Noises, Terrorist Skit, Airport Hell, Beachman’s Last Poetry Reading, and Enter William Shakespeare were all presented by the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. Brustein was also the author of Doctor Hippocrates Is Out: Please Leave a Message, an anthology of theatrical and cinematic satire on medicine and physicians, commissioned by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement for its 2008 convention in Nashville.

Brustein served as a Professor of English at Harvard University, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Suffolk University in Boston, drama critic for The New Republic, and former dean of the Yale School of Drama. In 2003 he served as a Senior Fellow with the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University, and in 2004 and 2005 was a senior fellow at the National Endowment for the Arts’ Arts Journalism Institute in Theatre and Musical Theatre at the University of Southern California.

He was the Founding Director of the Yale Repertory Theatre and the American Repertory Theater and served for twenty years as director of the Loeb Drama Center, where he founded the American Repertory Theater Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University. He retired from the artistic directorship of A.R.T. in 2002 and subsequently served as Founding Director and Creative Consultant.

During his tenure at A.R.T., Brustein wrote eleven adaptations, including Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, The Master Builder, and When We Dead Awaken, the last directed by Robert Wilson; Three Farces and a Funeral, adapted from the works and life of Anton Chekhov; Luigi Pirandello’s Enrico IV; and Brustein’s final production at A.R.T., Lysistrata by Aristophanes, directed by Andrei Serban. He also directed numerous adaptations while at A.R.T. including a Pirandello trilogy: Six Characters in Search of an Author, which won the Boston Theatre Award for Best Production of 1996, Right You Are (If You Think You Are) and Tonight We Improvise; as well as Ibsen’s Ghosts, Strindberg’s The Father, and Thomas Middleton’s The Changeling.

Over the course of his long career as director, playwright, and teacher, he participated in the artistic development of such theater artists as Meryl Streep, Christopher Durang, Christopher Walken, Cherry Jones, Ted Talley, Michael Feingold, Sigourney Weaver, James Naughton, Mark Linn-Baker, Henry Winkler, James Lapine, Tony Shalhoub, Tommy Derrah, Rocco Landesman, Linda Lavin, Michael Yearga, William Ivey Long, Derek Maclane, Steve Zahn, Peter Sellars, Santo Loquasto, Tom Moore, Albert Innaurato, and many others.

Mr. Brustein was the recipient of many distinguished awards, including:

  • Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Nottingham
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship
  • Twice winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism
  • George Polk Award for Journalism (Criticism)
  • The 2nd Elliot Norton Award For Professional Excellence in Boston Theatre (formerly the Norton Prize), presented by the Boston Theatre District Association
  • New England Theatre Conference’s Major Award for outstanding creative achievement in the American theatre
  • American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts
  • Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • Association for Theatre in Higher Education Career Achievement Award for Professional Theatre
  • The Commonwealth Award for Organizational Leadership
  • Inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame
  • United States Institute for Theatre Technology Lifetime Achievement Award
  • National Corporate Theatre Fund Chairman’s Award for Achievement in Theatre
  • Gann Academy Award for Excellence in the Performing Arts
  • Eugene O’Neill Foundation’s Tao House Award for serving the American theatre with distinction
  • National Medal of the Arts
  • Players Club Hall of Fame