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Richard Barr; Broadway Producer and Director

From Staff and Wire Reports

Richard Barr, the Broadway producer and director who brought to life the works of Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee and others, winning a Tony award for Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is dead.

Barr, who lived in New York City, died Monday of liver failure at Mt. Sinai Hospital. He was 71 and had been suffering from exposure to HIV, the virus associated with AIDS, said Shirley Herz, his spokeswoman.

At his death, Barr, who was president of the League of American Theaters and Producers for 21 years, was preparing a new Albee drama, “Marriage Play,” for Broadway.

He presented many of Albee’s plays on and off Broadway including “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” “A Delicate Balance” and “Seascape.”

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Barr also presented some of the first works by such authors as Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, John Guare, A. R. Gurney and Terrence McNally through the Playwrights’ Unit, a production company he founded with Albee and Clinton Wilder. He also co-produced Beckett’s “Happy Days.”

Barr grew up in Washington and graduated in 1938 from Princeton University, where he acted in plays.

He began his theater career in the late 1930s working for Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater and was a production assistant for Welles’ radio program “War of the Worlds” in which thousands thought the country had been invaded by Martians. Later he went to Hollywood with Welles where he became an executive assistant during the filming of “Citizen Kane.”

Barr first began producing plays on Broadway and on tour during the late 1940s and early ‘50s, but attracted considerable attention off-Broadway in 1960 with a double bill of one-act plays, “Krapp’s Last Tape” by Beckett and Albee’s “The Zoo Story.” He went on to present more works by Albee off-Broadway including “The Death of Bessie Smith,” “The Sandbox” and “The American Dream.”

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One of Barr’s biggest successes was the Broadway production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” The verbally abusive tale of a disintegrating marriage, the play starred Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill and opened on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theater in October, 1962. It won the Tony award for best play the following year.

Among Barr’s other successes were “The Boys in the Band” in 1968 and as co-producer of “Sweeney Todd,” the Stephen Sondheim musical that won a Tony in 1979. His last production was James Duff’s “Home Front,” which had a short run on Broadway in 1987.

As head of the theater league, Barr in 1971 moved evening curtain times back an hour, to 7:30, to reduce the time between the end of the working day and the beginning of performances. But resultant complaints, particularly from restaurateurs, pushed it forward to 8 where it remains.

Barr is survived by his mother, Ruth Baer, and two sisters.

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