A toast to …

Terry Teachout (1956-2022)

About twenty years ago, at the dawn of the blogosphere, I started my own blog to write about theater, drama, and playwriting efforts. At the time, the only critic with a blog presence was Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal, and with the misplaced confidence of youth, I dropped him a short note alerting him to my own web site and suggested that he might find it of interest. Terry did more than that; he responded enthusiastically, both at About Last Night and in personal emails, and so began a friendly relationship. Terry and I did not see eye-to-eye on many aesthetic issues, but his generosity and open-mindedness made our disagreements more on the order of cheerful exchanges of views instead of bitter arguments. And on several occasions it turned out we did surprisingly agree on certain plays, music, and social issues, and this deepened my respect for his perspective.

Terry and I would get together for lunch once in a while, and a few times I was his +1 for press previews; I would also run into him occasionally when I myself was a freelance theater reviewer for the New York Times. (Once I came across him during a press preview for a particularly uninspired Broadway musical comedy. When I approached him to say hello, he looked up at me from his aisle seat, widened his eyes, and said with a smile, “Boy, did somebody put you on the wrong list.”) And when, in 2006, he kindly agreed to accept a press ticket for my own play, he not only attended but gave it a rave review on his web site, a review that brought considerable cheer and happiness to the director and cast of the play, not to mention myself. And, because I was familiar with Terry’s journalistic integrity, which nobody who knew him would deny, it was doubly appreciated; had he not liked the play, a tiny-Greenwich-Village-theater bagatelle rather than a Broadway extravaganza, he would have responded to it with a kind, but silent, smile.

Since then Terry and I remained in only occasional contact, but it was with great sadness that I read of his passing at the age of 65 this morning. In the years since, Terry had written highly-regarded biographies of two of the jazz musicians most important to him, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. He began a side career of writing and directing plays himself.  And Terry was particularly admired and beloved for his unstinting devotion to regional theater productions, travelling far and wide (at least, before corona set in) to cover out-of-the-way plays and musicals that otherwise would not have received national attention; indeed, Terry was the only national theater critic to spend any time searching out theater on the highways and byways of this huge country of ours, and for this alone I’m sure he’s at Heaven’s check-in desk.

Terry had his share of sadness over the past few years, becoming a widower two years ago, but had recently found love again, a love he was unashamed of expressing on Twitter, his preferred social medium, where he posted with sometimes alarming frequency. I’ll miss seeing his name and his posts there, so a toast to you today, old friend. We hardly knew ye.