With the New Group’s ill-fated Off-Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Mourning Becomes Electra” having recently closed on account of bad reviews, the Harold Clurman Theatre will remain dark until further notice, and young playgoers will stop asking me an all-too-familiar question: Who was Harold Clurman, anyway?
Nobody had to ask that question when Clurman died in 1980 at age 78. Though his name was never to be found above the title, he was one of the half-dozen most influential figures in modern American theater. In 1931 Clurman co-founded the Group Theatre, the legendary left-wing drama company that nurtured the early careers of Lee J. Cobb, John Garfield, Elia Kazan and Clifford Odets. In the ’30s he directed the Group Theatre’s productions of Odets’s “Awake and Sing!” and “Golden Boy,” and after World War II he staged the premieres of O’Neill’s “A Touch of the Poet,” Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” and “After the Fall,” William Inge’s “Bus Stop,” Carson McCullers’s “The Member of the Wedding” and Tennessee Williams’s “Orpheus Descending.” Except for Kazan, no other director has succeeded in bringing so many serious new dramas to Broadway.