Mosher Back on Broadway Directing a Miller Classic

by Nick Obourn

Actors Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson with director and theatre professor Gregory Mosher
Actors Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson with director and theater professor Gregory Mosher

When A View From the Bridge opened at the Cort Theater on Jan. 24, to rave reviews, it marked Gregory Mosher’s return to Broadway. The last play he directed on the Great White Way was the 1992 revival of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. The play was well received, but when it closed, Mosher, a theater professor at School of the Arts and director of the University’s Arts Initiative, needed a break. “I had done theater nonstop for 21 years,” he says. “I worked 340 days a year. I wanted to do something else. Only, I did not know what that thing was.”

No wonder he was tired. As a theater director and producer, Mosher has worked with nearly every well-known 20th-century playwright: Samuel Beckett, David Mamet, James Joyce, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. His credits include more than 200 productions and 23 Mamet play premieres, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Glengarry Glen Ross when Mosher was head of Goodman Theatre in Chicago. As artistic director of the Lincoln Center Theater, he won two Tony Awards.

Mosher found projects during his hiatus from directing. He worked on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. He directed a few movies and a TV version of Mamet’s 1977 play A Life in the Theatre for TNT. He also produced a film version of Mamet’s American Buffalo. And he says he took time to travel and relax. “I watched movies and I traveled. Mostly I read.” But the theater-directing bug bit again, and in 2004, Mosher directed The Glass Menagerie at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and then Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in Copenhagen—in Danish, a language he doesn’t speak.

But his return to directing was interrupted again, this time by a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start the Arts Initiative at the invitation of Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger in 2004. Mosher leapt at the chance to create an organization that would enrich Columbia students’ experiences in the arts, both on campus and off, by providing discounted tickets, arranging lectures and performances and creating a cultural passport to the city’s museums that involve free entry for students.

“There was no model for this kind of program, and that’s when I am happiest,” Mosher said. “So then I had to put directing on hold.” Theater connections also allowed Mosher to bring notable artists to Columbia. For example, he brought Peter Brook and his theater company, C.I.C.T., to campus for a month-long residency that included performances and lectures. And he brought Václav Havel, playwright and the first president of the Czech Republic, to Columbia for a seven-week residency in 2006.

Last fall, Mosher became a professor of professional practice in the Theatre Program at School of the Arts. (He remains director of the Arts Initiative.) He taught a course to M.F.A. candidates called Fundamentals of Directing in which he instructed budding playwrights, dramaturges and stage managers about the director’s role in a play. “I was trying to get them to understand that a director serves the play, and that they have every right to expect a director who will serve the play,” he noted.

In many ways, Mosher considers A View From the Bridge, which stars Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson in her Broadway debut, to be an extension of his work at Columbia.

Mosher is careful though to make the distinction between running the Arts Initiative and being creative director of a theater. “The Arts Initiative is truly guided by its constituents, the faculty and alumni and students,” he says. “And, in a way, this is the complete reverse of being the artistic director of a theater, where you are paid to think deeply and make a series of decisions.”

The review of the play by The New York Times praised “Gregory Mosher’s beautifully observed production.” The New Yorker magazine described it as “a lightning bolt that sizzles and startles at the same time.” For Mosher, his Broadway journey is a joyful return to his old stomping grounds. “It felt like home,” he says. “But, still, you have to make it new.”

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