(The following article appeared in the Village Voice on May 19th.)
Obies 2009: Saying Goodbye to Tom O'Horgan, Paul Sills, and More
To recall some great theater artists gone this year means looking at why we make theater
They dimmed the lights of Broadway this year for Horton Foote, for Bea Arthur, even for super-agent Sam Cohn, but not for Tom O'Horgan, who once had four shows running simultaneously on that over-celebrated street. This didn't particularly surprise me: O'Horgan's fame and fortune were made on Broadway, but his glory lay elsewhere. He made the rock musical a viable form and, in so doing, permanently altered Broadway's idea of the musical theater. But I doubt that, if anyone had asked, O'Horgan would have called this his ultimate goal in life: What we achieve is never exactly what we meant to do when starting out.
They didn't dim the Broadway lights for Paul Sills, either, when he died last June, though his story-theater productions caused a great stir on Broadway in their time (he more or less invented the form), and the artists he nurtured through his decades of work with the Second City might be said to have created America's prevailing comic style. But such honors were probably not important to Sills, who, like O'Horgan, would have been startled, perhaps even annoyed, if anyone had referred to him as "a Broadway director." What both men had in common—what they shared with so many of the artists on the sadly long list of our necrology at the Obie Awards this year—was a passion for the spontaneity of theater, for the idea that we love it because it is ever-changing, always fresh, always open to surprise.