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Director Gerald Gutierrez Dies at 53

Director Gerald Gutierrez, who won back-to-back Tony Awards for revivals of The Heiress (1995) and A Delicate Balance (1996), was found dead today in his New York City home. Although exact details of his death were not immediately available, the Brooklyn-born Gutierrez had a bout with cancer some years ago.

He began his career as an actor, appearing in repertory at the Harkness Theater in 1975; Gutierrez understudied seven roles in Edward II, played Wesley in The Time of Your Life, and understudied two roles in Three Sisters, for which production he also served as musical director.

His Broadway directorial credits include The Curse of an Aching Heart (Little Theater, 1982), Little Johnny Jones starring Donny Osmond (the show closed on opening night, March 21, 1982, at the Alvin), The Most Happy Fella (Booth, 1992), White Liars and Black Comedy (Criterion Center, 1993), Abe Lincoln in Illinois (Vivian Beaumont, 1993), The Heiress (Cort, 1995), A Delicate Balance (Plymouth, 1996), Once Upon a Mattress (Broadhurst, 1996), Ivanov (Beaumont, 1997), Honour (Belasco, 1998), Ring Round the Moon (Belasco, 1999), and Dinner at Eight (Beaumont, 2002; it closed January 26, 2003). Among his many Off-Broadway shows were A Life in the Theater and Isn't It Romantic. Gutierrez had been scheduled to direct Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Kennedy Center next June.

On two occasions, I had the pleasure of interviewing the director. In 1992, I spoke with him prior to the opening of the scaled-down, twin-piano production of Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella. He had created the production in the spring of that year for Connecticut's Goodspeed Playhouse. Frank Rich had raved in The New York Times that, "By jettisoning the orchestra, Mr. Gutierrez liberates the show from both its operatic pretensions and its show-biz slickness." Said Gutierrez of the concept, "Things are sung pianissimo. The humanity comes out -- and, in humanity, there's humor." Pre-Broadway, the show moved to Hollywood's Doolittle Theater for a 10-week run.

Gutierrez said that he especially liked two productions he'd directed: "A three-character Trinidad play, Meetings, which I did for the Phoenix Theater, and a Carousel that I did for the Houston Opera." He added, "I could more readily tell you the ones that made me want to crawl into a hole."

In 1996, I spoke with Gutierrez during rehearsals for Once Upon a Mattress, which starred Sarah Jessica Parker. He complained about working 12-hour days and that he practically lived "in this goddamned theater." I mentioned the old line about punishing Hitler by sending him out of town with a musical. "Now you don't go out of town," observed Gutierrez, "which makes it a lot worse. You're surrounded by a lot of people who want you to fail. [Theater] people start coming to the first preview. You think: Why the hell are you coming to the first preview of a musical? It's insane! Unless you want to see it bad. There's all of that silliness, but I try not to think about it."

In Who's Who in America and at least one other book, Gutierrez was listed as having been married to Wendy Wasserstein from 1983 to '86 and having had two children with the playwright, Ginger Joy and Phyllis Kate. He admitted that the whole thing was attributable to his sense of humor; that it was a "creative" marriage between two good friends; and that the years given were connected to productions of Isn't It Romantic, which Wasserstein wrote and he directed. In truth, Ginger Joy and Phyllis Kate were Wasserstein's cat and Gutierrez's dog. He was unaware until I told him that A.R. Gurney had named a character in Sylvia for Gutierrez's dog. "I had no idea," he said. "How wonderful! I'll tell Phyllis."

He disliked discussing career highlights. "I'm not comfortable answering questions like that; also, it makes me sound like I'm about to retire," he explained. "I'm just starting. It's hardly time for my memoirs." Alas, Gerald Gutierrez never got to write his memoirs, but his talent will long be remembered.

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