RIP: Nicholas Martin

Nicolas Martin

Nicolas Martin died on April 30, 2014 in New York after a long illness.

By Robert Israel

Nicholas Martin, longtime artistic director at the Huntington Theatre Company of Boston and the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Mass., where he directed over 18 productions, died April 30 in New York after a long illness. He was 75 years old.

I interviewed Nicky, as he was known, for a piece that appeared in Edge Media Network. As a tribute to Nicky, here is the piece reprinted in its entirety:

Last month, J. David Wimberly, chairman of the board of the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, announced that artistic director Nicholas Martin had agreed to leave at the end of two-year extension of his contract in 2008. The agreement also includes a two-year term, beginning in the summer of 2008, for Martin to assume the title of Artist Emeritus and to provide the Huntington with “artistic guidance and support.”

During these past six seasons, Nicholas Martin has brought the Huntington to new heights. He can be credited with increasing the theatre’s prominence and visibility in the community. Under his tutelage, the Huntington has added two new theatres in the Calderwood Pavilion in the South End (a historic feat, as these are the only new legitimate stages to be built in Boston in 75 years).

Additionally, he established the Breaking Ground festival – an annual event of new-play readings – and commissioned the Huntington Playwriting Fellows, now entering its third year. And he has steadfastly put together winning seasons, and, most notably, he put the Huntington on the map as one of the few national theatres that the late August Wilson turned to when he chose to mount new productions of his works.

To meet Nicholas Martin is to encounter a man uniquely aware of his life-force. I have chatted with him many times before curtain and he’s impressed me as someone with a quick wit, an engaging smile and penetrating eyes that don’t miss much. This led me to recall the title of one of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories, The Imp of the Perverse as a possible moniker for him. He seems to me to be like a mischievous child who is trapped inside the body a grown man.
Our conversation – which Nicholas Martin insisted be seen as a look forward rather than a look backward – began with my asking his reaction to my impression of him.

Nicholas Martin: Well, what you’ve noticed about me is true. I’ve had a life that has been troubled and abruptly punctuated by tragedy. The only thing that has gotten me through a lot of what I’ve faced is humor.

Robert Israel: What specifically has been tragic about your life?

Martin: Well, there has been a lot of loss, the mortality of close ones that died of AIDS. And without going into it, really, let’s just say I’ve frankly lived through a lot of violent death. And I’ve come through these things. Humor has helped me get through these things.

RI: What can you tell us about next season?

Martin: It is still in the formative stages, and I can’t really spill the beans but we are close to deciding on a season. I’ll soon announce that we will be working with two local playwrights at the Wimberly.

RI: You’ve just finished up the run of Butley starring Nathan Lane, which opened here in Boston and then enjoyed a successful run on Broadway, despite some negative notices by the critics there.

Martin: The negative notices in the press, which were disappointing, seemed to dwell on the fact that these critics couldn’t get past the tremendous success he’s enjoyed from so many of his film roles, such as The Bird Cage and The Producers. This is unfortunate and distressing. It’s as if these critics can’t get past their own envy about his successes nor see that he is tremendously talented in everything he does. Working with Nathan is a dream for a director.

RI: You sound annoyed by the press reaction to Butley.

Martin: Yes, because several of the critics compared Nathan’s performance to Alan Bates [the British actor who starred in the original production], and most of them weren’t alive to have seen Bates perform. It’s very distressing, really, because working with Nathan is one of the greatest collaborations I’ve ever had. But theatre critics today are lacking in that they don’t love the theatre, and they don’t have a sense of history about the theatre. To compare a performer’s work with someone that they haven’t seen and who, by the way, is no longer alive, is illustrative of this.

RI: Do you have any plans about working with Nathan Lane again?

Martin: Yes, we’ve talked about doing a production of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” with him in the role of Falstaff, not necessarily here in Boston, but that may be years off.

RI: Meanwhile, this season of the Huntington is far from being finished.

Martin: Exactly. Not only am I excited about the current production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, I’m thrilled to be presenting Noel Coward’s Present Laughter, which opens in May. It will star Victor Garber, and it’s one of those serendipitous things that sometimes happen – he was available, we’re friends, and he telephoned to say he was available, so we postponed doing Streamer” to present him in the Coward play instead. It’s not every day that you get someone like Victor, an actor of his significance, to do this. But before that I’m also directing Persephone by Noah Haidle, in March. So, you see, now is not the time to be looking backward and summing up all my years here. There’s just too much to look forward to.

Robert Israel can be reached at This interview appeared in a previous version at Edge Media Network (Boston).


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