Director and producer Robert Kalfin, who founded the Chelsea Theater Center, passed away September 20. Mr. Kalfin was 89.
Born April 22, 1933 to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Mr. Kalfin attended Alfred University for psychology before receiving a MFA from the Yale School of Drama. His combination of psychological intensity and dramaturgical rigor became his calling card as a director throughout the 1960s and 1970s, where he was a frequent face in the thriving Off-Broadway scene. Alongside stage manager George Bari and company manager David Long, Mr. Kalfin founded the Chelsea Theater Center in 1965.
At times housed in St. Peter's Church, the Church of the Holy Apostles, and later the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Chelsea Theater Center was controversial in its day for producing works that pushed the boundaries of socially divisive topics. Throughout the late 1960s, the Chelsea Theater Center was one of the only theatre companies in New York to produce plays that centered on humanizing Black nationalism, furious feminism, and fascism.
Actors of significant cultural heft would often take union minimum salaries in order to work on a Kalfin-directed production, including Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Frank Langella, and Christopher Lloyd. In 1973, Mr. Kalfin partnered with Hal Prince to produce a revival of Leonard Bernstein's Candide, which became the work's first commercially success production, transferring to Broadway following its premiere at Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In 1986, the Chelsea Theater Center folded under financial pressures. A book, Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater by Davi Napoleon, was later written on the company. Mr. Kalfin continued to direct work on and off Broadway, as well as in regional theatres throughout the country, including a tenure as the artistic director for the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.