Arthur Friedman, 1935Ė2002
BY CAROLYN CLAY
The critic as performer: in his heyday, that title fit local theater pundit Arthur Friedman as snugly as Hamletís tights fit John Gielgud. Friedman, who died February 18 following a long battle with Parkinsonís Disease, first made his mark locally as an actor ó part of the fabled troupe that labored on Harvardís Loeb and Agassiz stages under the baton of the late Timothy Mayer in the 1960s. He is particularly remembered for his acid-tongued Lucio in Mayerís 1967 Measure for Measure and his unctuous Mr. Peachum in the directorís 1965 Threepenny Opera. Friedman himself directed a still-talked-about 1971 staging (which he also narrated) of Alice in Wonderland that featured Stockard Channing as Alice, Tommy Lee Jones as the White Knight, Boston Phoenix classical-music critic Lloyd Schwartz as the Mock Turtle, and the late director and critic Skip Ascheim as the Caterpillar.
By 1969, Friedman had also become the witty and demanding theater critic for the Cambridge Phoenix (ancestor of this publication), to which assignment he brought his performerís panache, a scholarís encyclopedic knowledge, and a passion that stretched from Shakespeare to the tiny troupes of intelligent experimenters then burgeoning about town. Friedman went on to write for the Real Paper and the Cambridge Express, augmenting his criticism with a column titled "Bouquets and Brickbats" in which you did not want to find your name, since, unless you were Irene Worth, it was unlikely to be attached to a plaudit. On the other hand, Friedmanís informed encomiums to the great performers he admired were among his most eloquent and memorable writings.
In 1982, Friedman was tapped to replace the legendary, long-running Elliot Norton as chief critic for the Boston Herald. He continued in that capacity for 10 years, until the effects of his illness forced him to write only occasionally. But not even Parkinsonís disease could prevent Friedman from having prickly, trenchant things to say; he continued to contribute his "Curtains" column to the Herald, from time to time, until 1998. And as a long-time member of the Elliot Norton Awards selection committee, he put his theatrical scholarship together with a fanís fervency, delivering awards-ceremony paeans to guests of honor ó including theatrical legends Worth and Uta Hagen ó that had their subjects eating out of his hand.
So important a voice was Friedmanís on the local rialto that one sometimes forgot it was not his main address. In 1966, Friedman, who held degrees from City College of New York and Boston University and had taught at Harvard, joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. He remained there until he retired as professor of English in 1996, having spent 30 years as a Shakespeare specialist known for his entertaining lectures and highly original quizzes. The latter included such trick questions as "What is Lady Macbethís first name?" The correct response: Charles, based on the Thaneís addressing his wife, in act three, scene two, as "dearest chuck."
Friedman was also known for his collectibles. With interests as diverse as Yiddish theater (in which his father Morris had been a performer in the 1930s), the Bard, and Walt Disneyís main-meal-ticket rodent, Friedman amassed impressive accumulations of, among other things, Shakespeare mugs and Mickey Mouse memorabilia. He had recently turned over many valuable theatrical materials to the Harvard Theatre Collection, which will gratefully accept contributions in Friedmanís memory (Harvard Theatre Collection, Pusey Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138).
As a performer, Friedman loved being center stage ó even when there was no actual stage involved. As a friend, colleague, and frequent mentor, he was appreciated by many. And as a critic, he set the bar high, keeping the competition ó as, believe me, this critic can attest ó on its toes.
Issue Date: February 21 - 28, 2002
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