Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lloyd Richards: Stage Director ; His Career Garnered Awards and Stretched over Six Decades, Including Segments of Television's Historic "Roots: The Next Generation."

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lloyd Richards: Stage Director ; His Career Garnered Awards and Stretched over Six Decades, Including Segments of Television's Historic "Roots: The Next Generation."

Article excerpt

Veteran stage director Lloyd Richards, who died June 29, was known for being soft-spoken. But when he tried to help me understand the world he grew up in, his voice was barely audible. "I finally realized that, after going to the movies as a young person for years, I had never seen two black people kiss," he said.

Seated in the living room of his townhouse in Manhattan, Mr. Richards explained why directing Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking drama "A Raisin in the Sun" on Broadway in 1958 was so meaningful to him. "This was not about being the first black director to work on Broadway," he added. "This was about showing that black people could be in love."

A good stage director's work is as invisible to most audiences as the inner lives of black America were to the rest of society during those years.

Richards, who started as an actor, analyzed play scripts to discover the reasons behind each character's actions and each playwright's message. His sensitive, naturalistic direction of Ms. Hansberry's award-winning play, the first on Broadway by an African- American woman, shattered misconceptions about racial differences.

Set in a one-bedroom tenement apartment in early 1950s Chicago, it chronicles the Younger family's struggles, as four adults and a 10-year-old boy battle poverty, racism, failed dreams, and rats. The late John Fiedler, who portrayed Lindner, the play's only white character, recalled that "for many people, it was like looking through a keyhole. They'd never seen a family like this on stage before."

And if that were Richards's only contribution to American theater, it would make him stand above most other directors. But his skill at nurturing new talent also helped to develop other significant writers, chief among them one of the greatest playwrights of all time: August Wilson.

While running the Yale Repertory Theatre and the O'Neill Center, Richards discovered Mr. Wilson. The young, untrained writer's first work, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," benefited from the same careful shaping and pruning that Richards contributed to Hansberry's masterpiece. Following "Ma Rainey" in 1984, Richards directed six more of Wilson's remarkable outpouring of 10 plays about the African- American experience in America, each one set in a different decade, including "Fences" and "The Piano Lesson. …

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