Lee Breuer, Adventurous Theater Director, Dies at 83

Esser Leopold Breuer was born on Feb. 6, 1937, in Philadelphia, the only child of Joseph Breuer, an architect, and Sara Leopold Breuer, a...

Esser Leopold Breuer was born on Feb. 6, 1937, in Philadelphia, the only child of Joseph Breuer, an architect, and Sara Leopold Breuer, a onetime newspaper columnist.

“I always wanted a brother or sister. I was always lonely,” Mr. Breuer recalled in an interview that appears in “Getting Off: Lee Breuer on Performance,” his 2019 book with Stephen Nunns.

It didn’t help that Mr. Breuer’s family moved frequently, or that in the process he skipped a few grades, making him younger than his classmates. At 16, he enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he majored in English and began writing plays. Ms. Maleczech — whom he would marry in 1978 and remain married to until her death in 2013, despite a decades-long separation and his having three children with three other partners — was in one of them.

A charismatic globe-trotter who was always hustling for the next project, Mr. Breuer bristled at the thought of having to be, as he once put it, “a good, middle-class bourgeois fellow.” Bohemianism was more to his taste. When he and Ms. Maleczech returned to the United States in 1970 after several years in Europe, part of the lure was the ease of getting welfare for six months while they made “The Red Horse Animation.”

In New York, Mabou Mines at first had one foot firmly in the art world. But the Off Off Broadway scene was percolating wildly, and by 1974 the company was part of A Bunch of Experimental Theaters of New York, Inc., a fledgling alliance whose membership reads like a roll call of downtown legends: Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company, Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theater, Richard Schechner’s Performance Group, André Gregory’s Manhattan Project, Meredith Monk/The House.

The Times critic Mel Gussow soon became a champion, calling Mr. Breuer’s 1975 evening of Beckett shorts for Mabou Mines “stunningly conceived and executed.”

Unlike many of his peers, though, Mr. Breuer did not have a locked-in aesthetic. Mr. Schechner, who called him one last time on Sunday morning and told him that his work had affected millions — in the indirect, culture-nudging way that avant-garde theater can — said in an interview that Mr. Breuer’s range and curiosity made him stand out.

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Newsrust: Lee Breuer, Adventurous Theater Director, Dies at 83
Lee Breuer, Adventurous Theater Director, Dies at 83
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