Longstanding and highly regarded theater critic and arts writer Nelson Pressley of The Washington Post announced his retirement on August 31 on Facebook. His last piece ran in the Sunday Post on September 1.
An excerpt from his farewell announcement to the D.C. theatre community reads as follows:
“Earlier this month I decided to retire from the Post to pursue other longstanding but never-enough-time-for-this goals – write more books, continue teaching, get outdoors and see what else a new chapter may bring …”
The announcement brought a slew of laudatory posts from theater professionals and colleagues, a veritable “Who’s Who” of Washington stage poohbahs past and present, ranging from Jennifer Mendenhall, Edward Gero, Ari Roth, Karma Camp, Jennifer L. Nelson and Christopher Youstra to Douglas C. Wager, Paata Tsikurishvili, Joy Zinoman and Michael Bobbitt. Even Michael Kahn, former artistic director of The Shakespeare Theatre, emerged from retirement to offer a gracious tribute to Nelson’s “intelligence, fairness and ability.”
Pressley has contributed theatre reviews and other features to the Post since 1999, and served as the interim chief drama critic from 2001 to 2002, before Peter Marks came onboard. He continued freelancing for the Post until 2014, when he joined the paper as a theater critic and staff writer.
His reviews and features have appeared in Best Plays, American Theatre, Irish Theatre magazine, the Sondheim Review, the O’Neill Review and elsewhere. He is the author of “American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice” (2014) and contributed to “Modern American Drama: Playwriting in the 1980s” (2018). He teaches an honors class on political theater at the University of Maryland.
Prior to working for the Post, Pressley was theater critic for The Washington Times for nearly five years before resigning in 1998 after his editors put the kibosh on his plan to review Terrence McNally’s “Corpus Christi,” a provocative off-Broadway play about a gay Jesus figure. The conservative newspaper’s editor-in-chief at the time, Wesley Pruden, deemed that “our readers are not interested in that play.”
Pressley resigned when then features editor Carlton Bryant confirmed Pruden’s rigidity on the issue. “By forbidding me to review this play,” Pressley wrote in his resignation letter, “management obviously means to compel me to toe a partisan political line. That does not strike me as consistent with any honorable journalistic tradition, and it is certainly not something I can tolerate as a critic.”
Elaine Showalter says
I wish the theatre reviews in the Post were as strong as the movie reviews, art & architecture reviews, music reviews, fashion and food. And we need a name for DMV theatre, now bundled under “regional “ elsewhere.
Malcolm Barnes says
Pressley will surely be missed. Witness the lack luster review of Fabulation by Celia Wren before he was even officially gone.
Wren just didnt get Director Eric Ruffin’s unique African spiritual interpretation and found “the white clad figures wandering by between scenes . . distracting”.
That’s what happens when even a great paper fails to build a deep back bench of equally gifted critics in a town that has seen the theater community double in size.
The new action is in community theater not the Shakespeare.
The final minor league note to Wren’s review was the email reply address at the end which generically read,