Theater Talk: Neal Radice remembers Eric Bentley, critic, playwright, teacher

Jan 22, 2021

Eric Bentley (1916-2020) wrote almost a dozen books of theater criticsm, was a friend of and expert on playwright Bertolt Brecht, wrote plays, revues and songs himself, and taught at UCLA, Harvard, Columbia and UB, where he became friends of Neal Radice, now retired from the Alleyway Theatre, who shared some memories of Bentley, a self-promoter (isn't everyone in theater?) who cared deeply about his words.

Eric Bentley, Critic, Playwright, Teacher (at Harvard, Columbia, UB, et. al.) and friend of Buffalo's Neil Radice (retired from The Alleyway Theatre)
Credit Tyrone Dukes, The New York Times

Bentley, born in England on September 14, 1916 was 103 when he died this August 5, at home in Manhattan. Always a bit at odds with American theater, he was not fond of its most cherished institution, Broadway, preferring European theater and, in particular, plays by Bertolt Brecht. 

Like Brecht and his first hero, Shaw, Bentley was left wing in his politics. He wrote plays about those who were persecuted by the establishment, including artists harrassed by McCarthyism, as well as Galileo and Oscar Wilde.

Peter notes: "I met him at Columbia, during a play reading, but after the campus protests in 1968 (my freshman year) Bentley resigned in protest over the administration's ham-handed handling of those events, so I never got to take a course with him."

Neal Radice

When Eric Bentley came to UB, he became the [Katharine] Cornell Professor of Theater and later he and Neal Radice and Maxim Mazumdar became friends. If that name Mazumdar rings a bell, it may be because the annual international playwrighting competition at The Alleyway Theatre was founded in memory of Canadian actor/playwright Maxim Mazumdar (1953-1988).

The list of Bentley's books of criticism include:
    1944: A Century of Hero Worship
    1946: The Playwright As Thinker
    1947: Bernard Shaw
    1948: The Modern Theatre
    1953: In Search of Theater
    1956: What Is Theatre?
    1964: The Life of the Drama
    1971: Thirty Years of Treason
    1972: Theater of War
    1981: Brecht Commentaries
    1987: Thinking About The Playwright