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Liviu Ciulei

( b. Jul 07, 1923 Bucharest, ROMANIA - d. Oct 25, 2011 Munich, GERMANY ) Male

Liviu Ciulei was voted best director at the Cannes Film Festival in 1965 and led the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in the 1980s, when it won a Tony Award.

Mr. Ciulei made films in his native Romania, but in the United States he was best known for his provocative interpretations of classic plays. He made his American debut in 1974 at Arena Stage in Washington with Georg Büchner's Leonce and Lena, a 19th-century German absurdist political satire. The New York Times theater critic Clive Barnes called the production "electric" and "eclectic," describing it as "a sort of time capsule of world theater right up to the foolish epics of Brecht and the epic follies of Ionesco." Mr. Ciulei, Mr. Barnes wrote, "is one of the most imaginative directors in the world."

Among his other notable productions were a Hamlet at Arena Stage in 1978, set in Bismarck-era Germany, which Richard Eder in The Times called "not the triumph just of a season but of a decade"; The Inspector General, Gogol's skewering of bureaucracy, which appeared on Broadway at Circle in the Square, also in 1978; and a second Hamlet, less well received, at the Public Theater in New York, starring Kevin Kline, in 1986. Among many other productions at Arena, he directed The Lower Depths, Don Juan and Six Characters in Search of an Author.

His first production at the Guthrie, in 1981, was a Tempest that depicted Prospero's kingdom as an island surrounded by a bloody moat with cultural artifacts -- the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa among them -- floating in it. His Midsummer Night's Dream underscored a psychological savagery and sadism in the play's romantic roundelay, depicting Bottom, the leader of the jesterlike players, as humiliated to the core by the indifference of his royal audience, a comment, some felt, on Mr. Ciulei's own lack of recognition by American audiences.

Trained as an architect, Mr. Ciulei was a set designer and an actor as well as a director, and his work was characterized by a precise visual sense. He believed that physical form suggested meaning, not just in design but in performance, and rather than having actors create actions to suggest the emotions of a moment, he encouraged them to begin with the actions and seek their psychological underpinnings.

Liviu Ioan Ciulei was born in Bucharest on July 7, 1923. His father ran a large construction company, and though he preferred that his son become an architect rather than an actor, he gave young Liviu a Bucharest theater, where he made his acting debut as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1946. In the 1950s Mr. Ciulei joined the Bulandra Theater, a leading Bucharest troupe, and became its artistic director in 1963. The American director Alan Schneider saw his work there and recommended him to Ms. Fichandler at Arena as the finest theater director in Europe.

Mr. Ciulei was artistic director of the Guthrie for five seasons in the early 1980s, during which he redesigned the main stage and added challenging productions by himself and directors like Andrei Serban and Peter Sellars to the schedule and was generally credited with bringing increased national attention to the theater. In 1982 the Guthrie won the Tony given annually to an outstanding regional theater. He later taught at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts and at Columbia.

In Romania Mr. Ciulei was also known as a filmmaker. His films included "Padurea Spanzuratilor" ("Forest of the Hanged"), about a soldier who takes part in the execution of a deserter during World War I and is overcome by guilt. Shown at Cannes, the film earned Mr. Ciulei the festival's best-director award and he considered it, at least in part, to be his finest work.

Source: The New York Times obituary

ProductionsDate of Productions
The Inspector General
[Play, Revival]
  • Directed by Liviu Ciulei
Sep 21, 1978 - Nov 19, 1978
1986 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play
Liviu Ciulei (for "Hamlet") [nominee]
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