Richard Gilman, an influential theater critic and teacher who championed the works of modern dramatists, died Oct. 29 at his home in Japan after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 83.
Gilman grew up in Brooklyn, served in the Marines during WWII and graduated from the U. of Wisconsin. He had no theater background prior to becoming a drama critic, first for Commonweal in 1961 and then for Newsweek from 1964-67. Nor did he have an advanced degree when he was hired to teach at Yale by Robert Brustein.
Gilman was an advocate of tough, experimental works by artists such as scribes Harold Pinter and Peter Handke and helmers Jerzy Grotowski and Peter Brook.
Gilman was an enthusiastic raconteur who eschewed theory and jargon for a more humanistic and personal view of drama, and his Yale classes were among the university’s most popular at one time, drawing as many as 800 undergraduates. He also taught graduate classes in playwriting and criticism to many who would go on to established careers in the field.
As a writer, Gilman preferred longform essays and books rather than theater reviews. He served as a staunch advocate for theater that rejected traditional structure in order to see the world anew, particularly making the point in an exploration of some of his favorite playwrights in his enduring 1974 book “The Making of Modern Drama.”
Gilman is survived by his wife, Yasuko Shiojiri, who had translated his books into Japanese; two daughters and a son; a sister; and four grandchildren.
— Steven Oxman