Last evening we got the bad news about the passing of much respected Village Voice critic Michael Feingold (1945-2022).
I’d gotten a sense he wasn’t well from our last exchange in early 2020 — “cardiac troubles and worn out optic nerves” was how he put it. I didn’t know him well but I was hoping to encourage him to see a play of Dick Zigun’s at Coney Island USA at the time. Both the Voice and Feingold’s position there were long gone by that point, but he was still doing a column for New York Stage Review, “like the retired gynecologist who still shows up to work once a week” he joked, “just to keep a hand in .” In turn, he picked my brain about vaudeville a little for a column he was mulling about Preston Sturges. So this was a very happy last exchange.
As it happens, Zigun’s show would be cancelled by the Covid epidemic a few days after our conversation. Zigun parted ways with CIUSA a year ago. For this, as has been well established, is the Age of the Unthinkable. Feingold’s dismissal from the Voice in 2013 was an early sign of that paper’s decline (the original Voice folded in 2017). He had started there just over a half century ago, in 1971. Releasing contributors like him seemed like suicide. Why would anyone pick up this paper without world class writers? And why are so many people apparently so insistent on transforming New York into Dubuque?
I wasn’t enthralled with Feingold’s chosen beat; I thought the shows that attracted his attention were too Establishment. The edgier shows were doled out to lowly free-lancers like me (I contributed there from roughly 2000 to 2010). So I was less into who he reviewed than how he reviewed, which is kind of the point, anyway. Feingold was sort of on Mt. Olympus, and you can count on one hand the number of theatre critics who attain that coveted status in this day and age. Feingold had earned that place, not just because he could cobble together a good sentence, but because he had been in the trenches himself, as a literary manager for major regional companies like the Yale Rep, the Guthrie, and the A.R.T. His greatest accomplishments, to my mind, weren’t those weekly reviews New Yorkers will be memorializing in the days to come, but his translations of great classic plays like Schiller’s Mary Stuart and Goldoni’s The Venetian Twins and especially Brecht and Weil’s Happy End and 3 Penny Opera, both of which made it to Broadway. This work provided partial inspiration for my play Kitsch, which was produced at Theater for the New City in 2009. One of our few other conversations had been about that.
Over the years, he would approach me with questions about the likes of Bert Williams, Caruso, and Phil Silvers — not the obvious stuff, for his own knowledge was too deep and broad to require that, but very specific questions, which I rarely knew the answers to. And he was gracious in return with words of support from time to time. It is not just sad, but frequently terrifying, to lose members of the older generation. I hope he had a Happy End.