I’m very sorry to note the passing, due to aortic valve disease, of Michael Feingold. He was a colleague, a friend, and the smartest, best-informed drama critic I knew. From 1982 to 2013, he was the lead theater critic of The Village Voice. He was their best arts critic; he gave The Voice credibility and gravitas.
He was also a playwright, lyricist, and translator. He was nominated two times for Tony Awards and two times for Pulitzer Prizes. He won a special Obie Award, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship. He won the George Jean Nathan Award for dramatic criticism twice.
No other drama critic I knew had his depth of knowledge. He translated German and Italians plays and operas for America productions. His translation of The Threepenny Opera, which I enjoyed very much on Broadway in 1989, has been presented in many theaters worldwide.
As a reviewer, he generally preferred writing about serious dramas, rather than musicals. And no one could top him when it came to analyzing, assessing, and critiquing serious dramas. That brought out the best in him.
He saw seemingly everything, and championed plays and productions he found meaningful, even if they were at the smallest of theaters. He chose what he wished to cover, and would sometimes expound at great length about a drama Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway that he felt was worthwhile and might otherwise be neglected, and then dispatch in the shortest, most terse review imaginable a big, glossy commercial Broadway musical that he was sure would find an audience but—in his eyes—was devoid of much artistic value.
But his personal interests were surprisingly broad, and his knowledge of show business past-and-present was encyclopedic. He could recognize—and praise–greatness in individual performers whether they happened to clowns, low comics, song-and-dance men, torch singers, or Shakespearean actors. The last time we talked and shared a meal, surprisingly enough he talked mostly about Al Jolson and Fanny Brice, whose work he knew well and appreciated. I will miss him.
I found him to be humble, too–even though he was unsurpassed at what he did. While we were dining and chatting, a patron interrupted us, saying that he recognized Feingold from the Obie Awards (which Feingold long chaired); this patron wanted to give his compliments. He reminded Feingold that they had met briefly and talked a little bit at the awards, saying something like, “Do you remember? I told you how you were my guide to Shakespeare. How I wasn’t into him at all until I read your notes on Hamlet. Your notes were my guide.” Feingold could have chewed out the fellow for interrupting him while he was dining, but instead he was gracious. Feingold was apologetic for not recognizing or remembering the fellow, saying, “I’m not good at all at recognizing people. It’s a weakness I have, my apologies.” (I could not have been so gracious.)
I had tremendous admiration for him.
He died November 21st, 2022 at Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital in Manhattan. He was 77.