Lawrence J. Sacharow, director of the theatre program at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, and Obie Award-winning director of Len Jenkin’s “Five of Us,” died Monday, August 14, at New York Hospital, of complications from leukemia. He was 68.
Sacharow, known to peers, colleagues and students alike as a humane and daring director, tangled with some of the most challenging works of modern theater, including plays by Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, Anton Chekhov and Sam Shepard.
For his direction in 1994 of Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Three Tall Women,” Sacharow received the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Direction and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle award. In 2003, Sacharow directed the highly celebrated off-Broadway production of “Beckett/Albee,” an evening of one-act plays starring Marian Seldes and Brian Murray.
“His talents both as a director and a teacher were always aimed at those things which matter most,” said Edward Albee. “He taught me a great deal, and he is very much alive.”
Lawrence Sacharow, known to his friends as Larry, was born on October 10, 1937. Sacharow’s love of the theater began as an undergraduate at Brooklyn College when he saw his first play by Albee, “Zoo Story.” It convinced him that he wanted to spend his life working in the theater.
“It’s very rare,” said Sacharow in a 2004 interview, “when you go the theater and it actually changes your life.”
The founding artistic director of River Arts Repertory in Woodstock, N.Y., Sacharow directed Joanne Woodward in “The Seagull,” and also directed the only stage production of the film “Casablanca,” among numerous other productions at River Arts. He also served as chairman of the theater panel of the New York State Council on the Arts.
Sacharow is remembered by Marian Seldes, preeminent stage and screen actress, as a remarkable innovator who carried his compassion and commitment to the cause of the human family with him into the theater.
“Larry’s vision of the theatre was of world theatre, beyond Broadway, beyond New York, and he imparted that to his students and into the Fordham curriculum,” she said. That’s very rare.”
Sacharow was deeply committed to dramatizing the challenges of lives touched by war, drug abuse and political oppression, and organized a panel discussion on “Making Theater During War” at Fordham. He was a great fan of Russian and Indian theater, and was considered a pioneer in biographical theater. In 1968 he conceived and directed “The Concept,” a social commentary on drug addiction performed by recovering addicts from Daytop Village, a drug rehabilitation center. “The Concept” ran for three years off-Broadway and was brought back to the stage in 1986, and again in 1994, to tour the Moscow Art Theater and the Gorky Theater in St. Petersburg. In 2005, “The Concept” was still being performed at venues across the country.
During his distinguished 17-year tenure as director of the theatre program at Fordham University, Sacharow was recalled by faculty colleagues as “exceedingly collegial, understanding, sympathetic and very, very funny.” Students remember his insightful and generous mentorship. He was a recognized Chekhov scholar, and worked with numerous leading actors, including Marcia Gay Harden, David Strathairn and Ana Reeder, among others, many of whom he brought to Fordham as adjunct faculty.
“I feel the saddest for the young people at Fordham,” Seldes said. “His career as a teacher was so important to him. He was kind enough to let me teach in the program and I saw how much he meant to the students. They absolutely adore him and they aren’t used to death, to the death of a mentor, a leader.”
Seldes was collaborating with Sacharow on two more projects at the time of his death. “We were going to do another play of Edward’s [Albee] and a marvelous project of Larry’s own about Holocaust survivors. His ideas were so extraordinary you always wanted to be a part of them,” she said.
“He was an extraordinary individual, a man who was intensely spiritual but down to earth,” said Richard Kalina, professor of art and former chair of the Department of Theater and Visual Arts. “We are a remarkably cohesive department, which makes working here so enjoyable. Larry was a very important part of that.”
In spring 2005, Sacharow traveled to the University of Tokyo, where he lectured on Modern Theater/Ancient Sources, the topic of a book he was writing. He also taught a master class on the “Actor’s Work on Psycho-Physical Actions” at the University of Shanghai and at The Actor’s Studio.
“An inspiring teacher and a director of extraordinary range and vision, Larry made our theatre program a magnet for talent and a center of excellence within the University,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University. “He will be sorely missed by the entire Fordham community, but especially by his colleagues, who cherished him as a friend, and by his students who were enriched by his mentorship.”
Sacharow received his bachelor of arts degree in theater and television production from Brooklyn College, City University of New York. He was a member of the Actors Studio Directors Unit and studied with Lee Strasberg, Alan Schneider and Mira Rostova.
Sacharow is survived by his wife, Michele, his daughters Nina and Anya, and a grandson. Funeral services will be held on Thursday, August 17, 2006 at 2 p.m. at Beth Israel Cemetery, U.S. Highway 1, Woodbridge, N.J., (732) 634-2100.
1) Take the New Jersey Turnpike south to exit 11
2) Take the Garden State Parkway north to exit 131A
3) Make a right turn at the 4th traffic light (onto Thornall Street)
4) Continue to the 3rd traffic light and make a right turn on Gill Lane
5) Stay on Gill Lane, crossing over Route 1 (the name of Gill Lane will turn into Woodbridge Center Drive)
6) The entrance to cemetery is the first right, from Woodbridge Center Drive