Longtime local and national theater critic Dan Sullivan dies at 87

Dan Sullivan, a theater critic for local and national publications, died peacefully Tuesday in his Minneapolis home from the effects of dementia, according his daughter, Kate Sullivan. He was 87.

Sullivan, who was married to the novelist Faith Sullivan, was known and respected by his peers for his thoughtful approach to theater and reviewing. During his career he wrote for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Tribune, as well as covering off-Broadway for the New York Times. For 22 years he was theater critic for the Los Angeles Times.

“My dad was an agitator for the under-rated geniuses,” Kate Sullivan said. “He was a champion on the national level for local and regional theater. I believe he was instrumental in August Wilson winning the Pulitzer Prize.” (Wilson, who wrote some of his plays in St. Paul, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1987 and 1990.)

In national theater circles Sullivan was known for his work as leader of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. The American Theatre Critics Association, of which he was one of the founders, conferred on him lifetime Emeritus membership, one of its highest honors.

“(Dan) was a friend to every good theater critic and a mentor to a lot of them on their way up. And honest and forthright,” former Detroit Free Press theater critic Lawrence DeVine wrote on Facebook.

Chris Jones, theater critic for New York Daily News and director of the National Critics Institute, described Sullivan as “a major force in the field” at the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

Sulllivan attended Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., and did graduate work at the University of Minnesota. When he was a writer at the Pioneer Press he and another staffer, Irv Letofsky, helped found Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop. Sullivan was the BNW piano player when he was noticed by Faith Rogers, an actress and scriptwriter and his future wife.

“Dan was smart; that was important,” Faith recalled in a 2015 Pioneer Press interview. “He also had what I would call a strong feminine side. He ‘got it’ in terms of relationships and stuff like that.”

They were married in 1965 at Minneapolis City Hall in a ceremony Faith later described as ” a hoot” because the presiding judge recited bad poetry.

Soon after, Dan was given leave from the Minneapolis paper so he could participate in a Rockefeller fellowship that led to his selection as apprentice music critic at the New York Times. As soon as the couple arrived, the paper went on strike. “Dan was walking around with no money until the Rockefeller people agreed to pay his salary,” said Faith, who was pregnant at the time.

In 1969 Dan joined the Los Angeles Times. The Sullivan children — Maggie, Ben and Kate — were born and still live in Los Angeles.

The senior Sullivans returned to Faith’s home state of Minnesota after Dan left the Los Angels paper. Dan continued to write, gave speeches, and taught at the University of Minnesota where he showed hundreds of students what it takes to write an incisive theater review.