Richard Christiansen, influential Chicago theater critic, dies at 90

Mr. Christiansen went to work for the Chicago Daily News in 1957. He started the night shift, but by the early 1960s he was writing more ...


Mr. Christiansen went to work for the Chicago Daily News in 1957. He started the night shift, but by the early 1960s he was writing more and more about the arts – books, television, music. And the theatre.

He left the Daily News in 1973 to edit a new magazine, The Chicagoan, but when he went out of business after 18 months he returned to the Daily News. When this newspaper went bankrupt in 1978, it was taken over by The Tribune.

As a critic, Mr. Christiansen was not a cheerleader; if he thought a production was bad, he didn’t hesitate to say so. His opening sentence in a 1985 review of a drama called “White Biting Dog” at the Remains Theater simply read, “‘White Biting Dog’ shouldn’t happen to a dog.”

But if he liked a show, his words could help build the reputation of actors, directors and companies. An oft-cited example is his 1983 review of Jack Henry Abbott“In the Belly of the Beast: Letters From Prison” at the Wisdom Bridge Theater, a production directed by M. Falls and featuring William L. Petersen, the now well-known actor from the television series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” . Mr. Christiansen wrote about Mr. Petersen’s mannerisms and skill on stage, then said this:

“These qualities are admirable in the game and can be explained, but how do you explain the fact that a few minutes after leaving the theater on Thursday evening, I had to park my car on the side of the street in order to be able to clear the tears from my eyes ?

Subsequently, the Chicago theater world reportedly called a Mr. Christiansen rave a “pull over.”

Some critics keep their distance from the actors, directors and others they write about, but Mr. Christiansen, who leaves no immediate survivors, was known to talk shop with actors in the theater world and offer professional guidance.

In the mid-1980s, for example, he went to a showcase production of scenes from Shakespeare directed by a young director and actress named Barbara Gaines, liked it, and invited Mrs. Gaines to lunch.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Richard Christiansen, influential Chicago theater critic, dies at 90
Richard Christiansen, influential Chicago theater critic, dies at 90
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