Stuart Vaughan, a theater director who shared Joseph Papp’s passion for Shakespeare and staged several of the New York Shakespeare Festival’s inaugural productions with such stars (and future stars) as Al Pacino, Colleen Dewhurst, Elizabeth McGovern and Martin Sheen, died of cancer June 10 at home in High Bridge, NJ, the New York Times reported today. He was 88.
His partnership with Papp went back to the Shakespeare Festival’s first productions at an outdoor amphitheater on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In 1956 Papp hired him to stage Julius Caesar and The Taming Of The Shrew. The latter production resulted in Dewhurst’s celebrated performances as Katherine (a role Papp originally promised to his wife). The next year, when the festival moved to a temporary stage in Central Park, Vaughan directed Two Gentlemen Of Verona, Romeo And Juliet and Macbeth. These were all long before Papp built the Delacorte Theatre to present Free Shakespeare In The Park (1962) and the festival’s permanent complex, the Public Theater, in the old Astor Library in the East Village (1967).
Vaughan, who was also the founding director of the Seattle Repertory Theatre and involved in several other resident companies, including the Phoenix Theatre. Unlike many others in Papp’s motley of theatrical creatives, Vaughan was distinguished by his disdain for trendiness and devotion to text. In 1987, Papp announced a “Shakespeare Marathon” of all the Bard’s plays, in what would be the final legacy of the dying producer. Vaughn returned to mount Two Gentlemen Of Verona with McGovern, King John with Kevin Conway and Julius Caesar with Pacino as Mark Antony and Martin Sheen as Brutus.
Julius Caesar was slammed by Times critic Frank Rich as “stately, bereft of passion, indifferently acted [and] safely removed not only from the chaotic Rome of 44 B.C. but also from its audience’s present-day political environment.”
“Traditional productions were his forte,” said Richard Kornberg, a veteran press agent who earned his stripes working for Papp. “Two Gentlemen was charming and wonderful.”