Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Brian Johnston Died March 2, 2013 Cmu Professor Shook Up Established View of Ibsen

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Brian Johnston Died March 2, 2013 Cmu Professor Shook Up Established View of Ibsen

Article excerpt

There are many stories about Brian Johnston, world-renowned Ibsen scholar, CMU professor, Middle East human rights activist and educator, but perhaps the most noteworthy has to have been when he was teaching at American University in Beirut in the 1980s.

Even as the city became increasingly dangerous, and some of his fellow university professors had been kidnapped, Mr. Johnston still ventured out, until one day he was stopped at a checkpoint by a man with a machine gun and a black cloth over his face, recalled Jed Harris, a longtime colleague.

He was certain that he was about to be taken, when the man lifted his cloth slightly and said, "Have you graded your papers yet, professor Johnston?" and waved him on.

That's how good a teacher he was, Mr. Harris said.

Mr. Johnston of Wilkinsburg died of cancer March 2 at UPMC Montefiore at the age of 80. He will be memorialized at a service at the end of May, said fellow CMU drama professor Barbara MacKenzie- Wood, who called him one of the shining lights in that university's school of drama.

Mr. Johnston was one of the forces behind Pittsburgh's American Ibsen Theatre, "that grand and often magnificent dramaturg-driven theatrical experiment" that lasted for three seasons in the mid- 1980s, said Mr. Harris, a longtime CMU colleague and producer.

"The thing you must understand about Brian was that he was the primary source for radical thinking about Ibsen," he added, noting that Mr. Johnston's 1970 book, "The Ibsen Cycle" was the first to move away from a social realist view of his plays, "laying out the possibility of them as a connected work" along the lines of Greek tragedy.

As editor of the Norton Anthologies of Henrik Ibsen's plays, and controversial critic of that playwright's works, he shook up the existing Ibsen "establishment" in Britain with that approach, said Rick Davis, his longtime collaborator and co-translator. …

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