Robert Brustein

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Robert Brustein
Born Robert Sanford Brustein
April 21, 1927
New York City
Occupation theatrical critic, producer, playwright, educator
Nationality American
Period 1959 – now
Genre Theatre
Spouse Norma Ofstrock (1962–1979)
Doreen Beinart (1996–)
Children Daniel Brustein
Phillip Cates
Jean Beinart Stern
Peter Beinart

Robert Sanford Brustein (born April 21, 1927) is an American theatrical critic, producer, playwright, writer and educator. He founded both Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut and the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he remains a Creative Consultant, and has been the theatre critic for The New Republic since 1959. He comments on politics for the Huffington Post.

Brustein is a Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University and a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Suffolk University in Boston.[1] He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999[2] and in 2002 was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[3] In 2003 he served as a Senior Fellow with the National Arts Journalism Program[4] 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[5] at the University of Southern California.

Brustein is married to Doreen Beinart, and has one son, Daniel Brustein, and three stepchildren, Phillip Cates, Peter Beinart and Jean Beinart Stern.

Life and career

Brustein was born in New York City. His parents were Max, a businessman, and Blanche (Haft) Brustein.[6] He was educated at Amherst College, where he received a BA in 1948, and Columbia University, where he received an MA in 1949 and a PhD in 1957. During this time, he served in the Merchant Marine on tankers and Victory ships, and later at Kings Point Academy on Long Island. He also held a Fulbright Fellowship to study in the United Kingdom from 1953 to 1955, where he directed plays at the University of Nottingham.[7] After teaching at Cornell University, Vassar College, and Columbia, where he became a full professor of dramatic literature in the English department, he became Dean of the Yale School of Drama in 1966, and served in that position until 1979. It was during this period, in 1966, that he founded the Yale Repertory Theatre.[8]

In 1979, Brustein left Yale for Harvard University, where he founded the American Repertory Theatre (ART) and became a Professor of English. At Harvard, he founded the Institute for Advanced Theater Training. He retired from the Artistic Directorship of ART in 2002 and now serves on the faculty of the Institute. He has been a Distinguished Scholar in Residence since 2007 at Suffolk University, where he teaches courses in Shakespeare Analysis.[9]

As the Artistic Director of Yale Rep from 1966 to 1979, and of ART from 1980 to 2002, Brustein supervised over 200 productions, acting in eight and directing twelve.[9]

Critical writing

Brustein has been the theatre critic for The New Republic since 1959 (now on leave), and contributes to the Huffington Post. He is the author of sixteen books on theatre and society:

  • 1965: Seasons of Discontent: Dramatic Opinions 1959–1965 (Simon and Schuster) ISBN none – "an assemblage of his best magazine pieces from 1959 to [1965]"[11]
  • 1969: The Third Theatre (Knopf) ISBN 0-671-20537-4 – "a collection of pieces written between 1957 and 1968 ... that deal not only with theatre but also with literature, culture, and the movies" (from the Preface).[12]
  • 1971: Revolution as Theatre: Notes on the New Radical Style (Liveright) ISBN 0-87140-238-6 – examines campus turmoil, radicalism versus liberalism, the fate of the free university, the new revolutionary life style, the decadence of American society, and the sentimentality and false emotionalism of radical alternatives[13]
  • 1975: The Culture Watch: Essays on Theatre and Society, 1969–1974 (Knopf) ISBN 0-394-49814-3 – "As far as these bristling exhortations go, well, you have to wish the gadfly well"[14]
  • 1980: Critical Moments: Reflection on Theatre & Society, 1973–1979 (Random House) <smallISBN 0394510933 – "Can the Show Go On?", "The Future of the Endowments", "The Artist and the Citizen" and other essays on the state of American theatre.[15]
  • 1981: Making Scenes: A Personal History of the Turbulent Years at Yale, 1966–1979 (Random House) ISBN 0-394-51094-1 – Brustein looks at his time at Yale as part "of a larger social and cultural pattern"[16]
  • 1987: Who Needs Theatre: Dramatic Opinions (Atlantic Monthly) ISBN 0-571-15194-9 – a collection of reviews and essays including "an assessment of hits like 'Cats' and '42nd Street', Polish theatre, drama on apartheid and the Broadway vogue for British imports."[17]
  • 1991: Reimagining American Theatre (Hill & Wang) ISBN 0-8090-8058-3 – reviews and essays, mostly from The New Republic considering the state of American theater in the 1980s.[18]
  • 1994: Dumbocracy in America: Studies in the Theatre of Guilt, 1987–1994 (Ivan R. Dee) ISBN 1-56663-098-3 – "uses the prism of the American theatre to explore the motivating impulses behind rampant political correctness and to assess government efforts to regulate the arts"[19]
  • 1998: Cultural Calisthenics: Writings on Race, Politics, and Theatre (Ivan R. Dee) ISBN 1-56663-266-8 – "Many of these essays ... are concerned with how "extra-artistic considerations'" – multiculturalism, gay rights, women's issues and political correctness – impair current thought, including that of arts funding agencies."[20]
  • 2001: The Siege of the Arts: Collected Writings, 1994–2001 (Ivan R. Dee) ISBN 1-56663-380-X – "The opening essays lead the charge against The Three Horsemen of the Anti-Culture: political, moral, and middlebrow aesthetic correctness ... allied with corporate capitalism and a rigid multiculturalism"[21]
  • 2005: Letters to a Young Actor: A Universal Guide to Performance (Basic Books) ISBN 0-465-00806-2 – "A guidebook for performers on stage and screen [which] aims to inspire struggling dramatists and also reinvigorate the very state of the art of acting itself."[22]
  • 2006: Millennial Stages: Essays and Reviews 2001–2005 (Yale Univ. Press) ISBN 0-300-11577-6 – "examines crucial issues relating to theater in the post-9/11 years, analyzing specific plays, emerging and established performers, and theatrical production throughout the world"[23]
  • 2009: The Tainted Muse: Prejudices and Preconceptions in Shakespeare's Works and Times "an untainted lens through which to see Shakespeare as never before"
  • 2011: Rants and Raves: Opinions, Tributes, and Elegies
  • 2014: Winter Passages: Essays and Criticism

Brustein was the writer and narrator of a WNET television series in 1966 called The Opposition Theatre. He also comments on contemporary social and political issues for the Huffington Post.

Conflict with August Wilson

In 1996 and 1997, Brustein was involved in an extended public debate – through their essays, speeches and personal appearances – with African-American playwright August Wilson about multiculturalism, color-blind casting, and other issues where race impacts on the craft and practice of theatre in America.[24][25][26][27][28]


As a playwright, Brustein has both adapted the material of others and written his own original plays.


During his tenure at ART, Brustein wrote eleven adaptations, including Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck,[29] The Master Builder,[30] and When We Dead Awaken, the last directed by Robert Wilson; Three Farces and a Funeral,[31] adapted from the works and life of Anton Chekhov; Luigi Pirandello's Enrico IV;[32] and Brustein's final production at ART, Lysistrata[33] by Aristophanes, directed by Andrei Serban.

Adaptations which he also directed while at ART include a Pirandello trilogy: Six Characters in Search of an Author,[34] which won the Boston Theatre Award for Best Production of 1996, Right You Are (If You Think You Are), and Tonight We Improvise; Ibsen's Ghosts, Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, Strindberg's The Father, and Thomas Middleton's The Changeling.[35]

Brustein also conceived and adapted the musical 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.[36][37] After the original presentation in 1994 at ART[38] and in Philadelphia at the American Music Theatre Festival, who 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,[39] and the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles,[40] as well as touring theatres on the east coast of Florida and in Stamford, Connecticut.[41] The play has also been produced at Theater J[42] in Washington, D.C.. A remount of the original David Gordon production was presented by Peak Performances at Montclair State University's Kasser Theatre in January 2010,[43] and went on to a three-week run at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

Brustein's new klezmer musical, with composer Hankus Netsky, The King of Second Avenue, an adaptation of Israel Zangwill's The King of the Schnorrers, will be produced at the New Repertory Theatre in 2015.[44]

Original works

Brustein's full-length plays include Demons, Nobody Dies on Friday, The Face Lift, Spring Forward, Fall Back, and his Shakespeare Trilogy The English Channel, Mortal Terror, and "The Last Will."

Demons, which was broadcast on WGBH radio in 1993, had its stage world premiere as part of the American Repertory Theatre New Stages Season. Nobody Dies on Friday was given its world premiere in the same series[45] and was presented at the Singapore Arts Festival and the Pushkin Theatre in Moscow. It was included in Marisa Smith's anthology New Playwrights: Best Plays of 1998.[46]

Spring Forward, Fall Back was produced in 2006 at the Vineyard Playhouse[47] on Martha's Vineyard and at Theater J[48] in Washington. The English Channel was produced at the C. Walsh Theatre of Suffolk University in Boston and at the Vineyard Playhouse in the fall of 2007.[49] In the Fall of 2008, it played at the Abingdon Theatre in New York where it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

His short plays Poker Face, Chekhov on Ice, Divestiture, AnchorBimbo, Noises, Terrorist Skit, Airport Hell, Beachman's Last Poetry Reading, "Sex For a Change", and Kosher Kop were all presented by the Boston Playwrights' Theatre and form a play called "Seven/Elevens.[50]

Brustein is 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's musical satire, Exposed, was performed in 2014 at the Martha's Vineyard Playhouse.[51]

Awards and honors

Robert Brustein has been the recipient of many awards and honors, including:

In addition, Brustein received the Pirandello Medal, and a medal from the Egyptian government for contributions to world theatre. His papers are currently housed at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.[68]

See also


  1. Celebrated Writer-Director Robert Brustein Joins Suffolk University
  2. 2.0 2.1 Current Academicians
  3. 3.0 3.1 Complete List of ATHOF Inductees (pdf)
  4. National Arts Journalism Program Past Fellows
  5. NEA Arts Journalism Institute Previous Faculty
  6. Napoleon, David. "Theater Talk: Robert Brustein and His Dads" The Faster Times (June 4, 2011)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Robert Brustein, "A Critic in the Making"(pdf), Nottingham Alumni Online, 2001. p.15
  8. "History" on the Yale School of Drama website
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Robert Brustein" on the Suffolk University website
  10. A Havoc of Meddling Fools Wrapped Up in One Man
  11. Kirkus Reviews
  12. Book Detail
  13. Norton catalog
  14. Kirkus Reviews
  15. Google Books
  16. Kirkus Reviews
  17. Google Books
  18. Publishers Weekly
  19. Google Books
  20. Robin Lippincott in the New York Times
  21. Kirkus Reviews
  22. Google Books
  23. Yale University Press catalog
  24. William Grimes, "On Stage and Off: Face to Face on Multiculturalism", New York Times (December 13, 1996).
  25. William Grimes, "Face-to-Face Encounter on Race in the Theater", New York Times (January 29, 1997).
  26. Frank Rich, "Two Mouths Running", New York Times (February 1, 1997)
  27. Margo Jefferson, "Oratory vs. Really Talking About Culture", New York Times (February 4, 1997).
  28. Wilson vs. Brustein
  29. ART Past Productions: The Wild Duck
  30. ART Past Productions: The Master Builder
  31. ART Past Productions: Three Farces and a Funeral
  32. ART Past Productions: Enrico IV
  33. ART Past Productions: Lysistrata
  34. ART Past Productions: Six Characters
  35. Harvard Crimson review
  36. According to Alvin Klein, writing in the New York Times: "It can be said that Singer is the original author, Mr. Brustein is the adapter and Mr. Gordon is the auteur."
  37. According to John Lahr, writing in The New Yorker: "In its artfulness and eloquence, "Shlemiel the First" is far better than anything currently on Broadway."
  38. ART Past Productions: Shlemiel the First
  39. ACT Production History
  40. Variety review
  41. 'Shlemiel' Continues A Path to Broadway
  42. Theater Shlemiel the First
  43. Shlemiel the First at Peak Performances
  44. "The King of Second Avenue" on the New Repertory Theatre website
  45. ART Past Productions: Nobody Dies On Friday
  46. ISBN 1-57525-171-X
  47. Vineyard Playhouse Production History
  48. 2006–2007 Season
  49. Vineyard Playhouse: The English Channel
  50. BPT: Production History
  51. "Exposed" on the Martha's Vineyard Playhouse website
  52. 1961 Fellows
  53. George Jean Nathan Award
  54. 1962 Nathan winner
  55. 1987 Nathan winner
  56. 1964 winners
  57. [1]
  58. 1st thru 9th Norton Award winners
  59. NETC Major Award winners of the 1980s
  60. Award Winners
  61. ATHE Career Achievement Award
  62. 2001 Winners
  63. Robert Ridge: Broadway Beat
  64. USITT Award Winners
  65. Playbill News: Mulgrew, Jones, Durang Honor Robert Brustein
  66. Around Waltham
  67. 2008 International O'Neill Conference
  68. Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center Acquires the Person Archive of Robert Brustein
  • Plotkins, Marilyn J. The American Repertory Theatre Reference Book: The Brustein Years, 2005. ISBN 0-313-28913-1

External links