Hirschfeld Has Mastered His Lines

Article excerpt

One definition of the word "line" reads "all the speeches in a play, esp. the speeches of any single character." It could be said that the "lines" of Al Hirschfeld, theater caricaturist, are all the works of American theater as seen by a keen observer in an aisle seat. Mr. Hirschfeld has documented Broadway and beyond for more than 70 years, and his work is now on exhibition at the Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University.

While best known for his sketches that have accompanied reviews in The New York Times since 1928, Hirschfeld's work has become so synonymous with American theater that his drawings have appeared everywhere from United States postage stamps (a series of comedians) to the cover of TV Guide (the actors on "Seinfeld").

He prefers the term "characterist" rather than "caricaturist," as his pithy, jazzy renderings can be comical but never malicious. He is a master of stylized physical exaggeration: dark smudges for Jason Robards's eyebrows in a scene from O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," leering whorls for the eyes of Eileen Atkins as Virginia Woolf in "A Room of One's Own. …