Judith Malina, Founder of the Living Theater, Dies at 88

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By BRUCE WEBER
New York Times
APRIL 10, 2015

Judith Malina, an actor and director who with her husband, Julian Beck, founded the Living Theater, a troupe of activists and provocateurs who advanced the idea of political theater in America, catalyzed fierce debate over their methods and intentions, and in the name of art ran afoul of civic authorities on three continents, died on Friday in Englewood, N.J. She was 88.

Her death, at the Lillian Booth Actors Home, was confirmed by a friend and playwright, Karen Malpede. Ms. Malina had lung disease caused by years of smoking.

For movie and television buffs, especially those not old enough to remember beatniks, Lenny Bruce, Vietnam War protests or other symbols of remonstration against Eisenhower-era complacency, Ms. Malina was best known as a character actress. She appeared on “The Sopranos” (as Aunt Dottie, a dying nun who reveals to the gangster known as Paulie Walnuts that she is actually his mother) and in films including “The Addams Family,” Woody Allen’s “Radio Days” and, perhaps most memorably, “Dog Day Afternoon,” as the anguished and frantic mother of Sonny Wortzik, the misguided bank robber played by Al Pacino.

But she steered a far more emphatic and influential course with the troupe sometimes known simply as the Living, which occupied the leading edge of stage experimentation in the 1950s and 1960s and both fed and fed on the counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s. It was perhaps the most prominent and persistent advocate for a “new theater,” one that sought to dissolve the accepted artifice of stage presentations, to conjoin art and political protest, and to shrink, if not eliminate, the divide between performers and the audience.

A diminutive woman (journalists often noted that she weighed less than 100 pounds) who studied acting and directing with Erwin Piscator, the German director and theorist who, like Brecht, was a proponent of epic theater, Ms. Malina was tireless and passionate in advancing the idea that theater can be, and should be, a blunt force for cultural change. She and Mr. Beck, an Expressionist painter as a young man who became renowned as a set designer, considered themselves anarchists and pacifists, and their productions were statements as much as performances.

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