Theater Critic Rosette Lamont Dies At 85

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Rosette C. Lamont, a renowned theater critic, eminent author, distinguished teacher and leading authority on the works of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, died on January 5, 2012 in Falmouth, Massachusetts after a lengthy illness.

Lamont coined the phrase “Metaphysical Farce” to name the genre of Ionesco and his counterparts in which philosophy and politics are hidden in the wit and laughter of comedy. Her many books include two important books on Ionesco, “The Two Faces of Ionesco” and “Ionesco’s Imperatives: The Politics of Culture.” Her seminal “Women on the Verge” highlighted the work of women playwrights whose voices, she rightly insisted, were not being heard. She translated two of Charlotte Delbo’s books, “Auschwitz and After” and “Days and Memories.” A close friend of Delbo, she considered her to be, like Beckett, “a minimalist of infinite pain, a voice of conscience.”

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Rosette Lamont and Eugene Ionesco at a 1983 Roundtable at NYU.

A lover of life, art, beauty and truth, she was born in Paris, relocating to New York City as a young girl and resided on Upper West Side for many years. Her personal style was one of fearlessness and passion. Her love of the sea brought her to the isle of Nantucket where she summered yearly, the beauty of Nantucket recalling for her Proust and the beaches of Balbec. She summered on Nantucket yearly, famously making the rounds on her bicycle, swimming, writing, entertaining and being active in the social and cultural life of the island. She made yearly jaunts back to her beloved Paris where she reported on the emerging styles and forms of cutting edge theater.

Lamont was also a brilliant speaker, and a mentor to two generations of students. She leaves behind an enormous legacy as both a teacher and a scholar. Her vast network of friends and colleagues included such major post-war figures as Eugene Ionesco, Saul Bellow, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet and Fernando Arrabal.

Rosette Lamont was born in 1927 and was an only child. Her parents, Alexandre Salomon and Ludmila Lieberman Salomon emigrated from Russia to Paris where Rosette was born. The family fled France during World War II and arrived in the US. Her father, a furrier, and her mother, an accomplished concert pianist, were passionate about their daughter and her academics. Rosette earned her BA from Hunter College and her Ph.D. from Yale University.

Lamont became a professor of French and Comparative Literature at Queens College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York, where she was also on the faculty of the doctoral program in theater. She served an envoy for the State Department’s Scholar Exchange Program to the U.S.S.R in 1974 and was also a visiting professor at the Sorbonne in Paris (1985-1986). She was a Guggenheim Fellow (1973-1974) and a Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellow (1983-1984). In France, Lamont was a Decorated Chevalier, then Officier des Palmes Academiques, Offficier des Arts et Lettres. She was named to the Hunter College Hall of Fame in 1991.

In 1994, with her vast knowledge of cutting edge theater, she joined the theater faculty at Sarah Lawrence College where her work supported the experimental nature of the theater program. She developed close relationships with many of her students and often referred to Sarah Lawrence as her ‘utopia on a hill.’ She wrote regularly for many notable publications including The New York Times, Western European Stages, Theater Week and The New York Theatre Wire. She was a member of PEN, MLA, The American Society of Theater Research, The International Brecht Society, Drama Desk and The International Association of Theater Critics.

In 1961, Lamont began a lasting friendship with Ionesco, who was in New York for the Broadway debut of his play, “Rhinoceros.” As she would fondly recall, Ionesco knew of her through her writings about his work and unexpectedly phoned her one evening at her apartment while she was hosting a dinner party. She immediately invited him to join the festivities, which continued well into the night. Lamont’s rereading of Ionesco’s work reveals the dramatist as profoundly marked by the events occurring in Europe in his time and his personal experiences with war, occupation, and concentration camps.

Despite his repeated statements that he was strictly apolitical, later in life Ionesco himself admitted that being officially apolitical may well be the most political of attitudes. Some time in the late nineties, at the end of a wonderful Jean Cocteau Repertory theater company performance of Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” the actors came out to take their curtain call. The surprise was that instead of bowing, the actors came out to applaud Ms. Lamont.

She is survived by a first cousin and extended cousins in the United States and France. She married twice, to Bernard Seidler and Fredrick H. Farmer, and divorced from both. She remained a friend to both till their deaths.

A memorial in her honor will take place at Sarah Lawrence College on Saturday, February 18 at 2:00 PM in The Donnelly Film Theatre in the Heimbold Visual Arts Center at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY.

Jonathan Slaff is a New York publicist in the specialty of international cultural events. Jonathan and his writers keep us ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.