Other Notable Deaths


July 01, 2006

Lloyd Richards, one of the most influential figures in modern American theater and a pioneering director who brought the plays of Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson to Broadway and championed several generations of young playwrights, died Thursday in Manhattan. It was his 87th birthday.

The cause was heart failure, said his son, Scott Davenport Richards.

In the 1980s, as dean of the Yale School of Drama, artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater and of the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut and a director of commercial theater on Broadway, Mr. Richards was in a position of rare power in American theater, rarer still for an African-American.

His mark on the dramaturgic landscape started as far back as 1957, when he was offered the job of directing A Raisin in the Sun by an unknown playwright named Lorraine Hansberry.

In 1981, as head of the National Playwrights Conference at the O'Neill Center in Waterford, a place where playwrights can work among colleagues and have their plays staged, Mr. Richards selected a submission - one script out of more than a thousand - from another young unknown writer, in this case a poet named August Wilson. The play was Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, one of the plays in Mr. Wilson's 10-part cycle on the African-American experience in the 20th century. By the time Mr. Richards refined it and ushered it through Yale Rep, where he was then artistic director, to Broadway's Cort Theater in 1984, Mr. Wilson's standing as a major figure in American literature had been established.

Mr. Richards and Mr. Wilson, who died last year, would form one of the most successful artistic partnerships in American theater, as Richards directed and collaborated on Wilson's next five plays -Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running and Seven Guitars. Refining and developing them at nonprofit theaters around the country before coming to Broadway was a trademark of their creative process. Mr. Richards won the 1987 Tony Award for best director for Fences.

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