Terry Teachout once worked as a bank teller in Kansas City, and I think he liked to bring that fact up in conversation with theater people. It was a way of saying, “I’m a theater critic. But in reality, I am the audience.
“I still think Jell-O salads are vegetables,” Terry once told me because, in fact, we were eating veggie burgers before a play.
Terry Teachout passed away this week at the age of 65. He was a theater critic for The Wall Street Journal, playwright in his own right, who wrote Satchmo at the Waldorf, on Louis Armstrong, and accomplished biographer of Armstrong, George Balanchine, Duke Ellington and HL Mencken.
Terry and I became friends because of our shared love of musicals, especially Sondheim, Thornton Wilder, jazz, the Midwest, and, I guess, because we both shared the loss of loved ones. Terry’s wife, Hilary, whom he wrote about in his theater blog and tweet as, “Mrs. T”, died in March 2020, at the age of 49, shortly after receiving a bilateral lung transplant that she had waited and hoped for for years.
“Loss is the price of love,” Terry wrote after his death. “I was incredibly lucky to have him for much longer than his doctors expected.”
And in a blog post he recalled a phrase from Wilder Our city to say, “For those of us who are still on earth, striving to make something of ourselves, there seems to be no weaning from the people we love and lose: they are still there, dissolved in the fullness of eternity, waiting patiently – and, I suspect, indifferently – for the little resurrection that is memory.”
As a critic, Terry was more admiring than acerbic. He laughed out loud at previews, where the reviews were supposed to be inscrutable, and often wrote to me after seeing a production – it could be in Oregon or off Broadway – to say: “You have to go. They are amazing every night in front of only 50 people.” He used social media to be nice and make friends.
Terry believed that truly great works don’t smash you in the face with speeches and polemics, but let an audience wander, discover, breathe, and live in each other’s shoes for a while.
“A masterpiece doesn’t rush you,” wrote Terry Teachout. “It lets you make up your own mind about what that means and change it as often as you want.”