After a nearly four-year national search, the Los Angeles Times has appointed Charles McNulty, a Village Voice senior editor and head of the MFA program in dramaturgy and theater criticism at Brooklyn College, as its theater critic.
A native New Yorker, McNulty, 39, describes himself as a lifelong “theater person.”
“I think there’s a compelling story to be told about L.A. theater,” he said Monday from the Village Voice offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who have been working in the American theater already know what a fantastic theater town L.A. is. It’s rich in all sorts of ways.
“You have institutions that have been feeding the American theater” through new play development, as well as playwrights such as Richard Greenberg and Nilo Cruz who live on the East Coast but typically launch new work in Southern California, he said.
“I’m not sure that those on the outside of the theater understand that. I’m talking on a national scale as well as people within L.A. And it’s a landscape that’s changing,” notably with this summer’s arrival of Michael Ritchie as new artistic director of the Center Theatre Group.
John Montorio, The Times’ deputy managing editor in charge of features, said he and others at the paper responded to McNulty’s passion, his catholic tastes and his interest in small theater.
“And because the guy has worked on both sides of the aisle,” Montorio said, referring to McNulty’s six seasons as a literary manager and dramaturge at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., “he has a singular perspective that not all critics can offer.”
The Times has been without a theater critic since the end of 2001, when Michael Phillips left for its sister paper, the Chicago Tribune. The absence has not been lost on L.A.'s theater community.
“It’s been mortifying to go so long without a chief theater critic,” said Bret Israel, the Sunday Calendar editor who also supervises arts coverage. “But as I’ve told many people who didn’t always believe me, the main reason for the delay was the very high standard the paper sets for its critics, who are the soul of our cultural pages. Charles will join an outstanding group, and I am confident he will shine a penetrating and entertaining light on the wide, unappreciated world of Southern California theater.”
McNulty, who has also taught at Yale, New York University and the New School in New York, currently chairs the Obie Awards, the Tonys of off-Broadway. He holds degrees from NYU and Yale, including a doctorate in fine arts from the Yale School of Drama.
In addition to the Village Voice, he has written for Variety, the New York Times, American Theater and the Los Angeles Times.
He plans to join The Times’ staff in December, at the conclusion of the current semester at Brooklyn College.