By Robert Simonson
February 16, 2012

Daniel C. Gerould, a professor of Theatre and Comparative Literature at CUNY's graduate Center who held the Lucille Lortel Chair in Theatre, died in his sleep in the early hours of Feb. 13. He was 83.

Prof. Gerould was considered the leading U.S. authority in the field of modern European drama, particularly the theatre of Eastern Europe. Also a gifted translator, he is perhaps best known for introducing to the English-speaking world the writings of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, an avant-garde Polish dramatist, novelist and painter, whose savage, Dada-esque works prophetically foretold the rise of the totalitarian movements of the 1920s and 1930s. He translated 21 plays by Witkiewicz (who called himself Witkacy), and wrote extensively about the writer and twentieth-century avant-garde drama and theatre. By the early '70s, Gerould translations of Witkacy's plays were being performed on New York stages for the first time. He also edited the leading journal Slavic and East European Performance for almost 30 years.

Prof. Gerould was at the Graduate Center for over 40 years. He began teaching in the doctoral program in 1970, serving as chair, and in 1987, was appointed Distinguished Professor. At the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, he served as executive director from 2004 to 2008, and thereafter as director of academic affairs and publications. Before coming to the Graduate Center he taught at the University of Arkansas (1949-51), the University of Chicago (1955-59), and San Francisco State University (1959-1968), where he established and headed the Department of World and Comparative Literature.  

His interest in Polish theatre began after he visited Poland in 1965 on a travel grant from the U.S. Office of Education International Studies Project with California State Colleges. He discovered the plays of Witkacy by accident, in the drawer of Jerzy Sokołowski, a Polish Ministry of Culture official. He subsequently taught for two years at Warsaw University as a Fulbright Lecturer (1968-70). He was also an exchange scholar in the Faculty Research Program with the Soviet Union at Moscow State University in 1967.

In his introduction to his most recent collection of essays, "Quick Change," he wrote, "I have never been much concerned with whether an artist was a major or a minor figure, a canonical or non-canonical artist, since these valuations are constantly shifting and highly unreliable. Witkacy is a case in point, having gone from controversial outsider to classic of the avant-garde in three decades. My essays are open to writers of all provenance. Shakespeare and Molière, as well as Shaw and Ibsen, also put in frequent appearances."

For his translations from Polish he has received numerous awards, including prizes from the Polish International Theatre Institute, Los Angeles Drama Critics, Polish Authors Agency, Jurzykowski Foundation, American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages, American Council of Polish Cultural Clubs, and Marian Kister. He was the recipient of the City University of New York Award for Excellence in Teaching (Graduate Center) and was honored by TWB, Theater Without Borders, as a Groundbreaker in international theatre exchanges. He was the author of the 12-volume Routledge/ Harwood Polish and Eastern European Theatre Archive (1996-2002), as well as a play, Candaules Commissioner, which has been performed in France, Germany, and the U.S.  

Daniel Gerould was an avid jazz collector, and was married to the Polish scholar and translator Jadwiga Kosicka, with whom he frequently collaborated. She survives him.

Born in Boston in 1928, he began attending the theatre with his mother in the late 1930, witnessed performances by Ethel Barrymore and Boris Karloff. "I felt myself a seasoned spectator," he recalled, "was at home among audiences, and was always ready to applaud bravura displays of virtuoso acting. The seed had been planted, although it wasn’t until the 1954–55 season in Paris (where I was an exchange student) that I again became an intensive spectator."