R.I.P.: Liviu Ciulei

November 19, 2011

I only just yesterday learned by chance that the great Romanian-born theater director Liviu Ciulei died October 25 at the age of 88 at his home in Munich. I met him in 1984 when he was artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and brought his countryman Lucian Pintilie over to make his American debut staging the best production of Chekhov’s The Seagull I’ve ever seen. He also invited Peter Sellars to the Guthrie to mount Hang On To Me, a beautiful mash-up of Gorky’s Summerfolk with Gershwin songs. I had the pleasure of interview Liviu several times, including for an article that ran in the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times (Bruce Weber picked out all the best quotes for his obituary). He and his wife Helga were very smart, very sophisticated, very modest, and yet also not afraid to register sharp, witty criticism. Liviu was very much a product of the culture in which he created his career. On the one hand, he once told me with quiet outrage that under the Communist Ceauşescu regime in Romania, he was not allowed to stage Hamlet because it was forbidden to portray ghosts onstage. (He got to put on an excellent production at the Public Theater with Kevin Kline in the title role and the legendary Jeff Weiss as the Player King.) On the other hand, he insisted that story be off-the-record, lest it somehow get him in trouble. (Granted, this was before Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu were driven from power and summarily executed on Christmas Day, 1989.)

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