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Modern Theatre in Context: A Critical Timeline

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Nathan Cohen as a revue character (right)

Nathan Cohen, later to become lead theatre critic at The Toronto Star, and already a strong advocate of developing a Canadian theatre, publishes his first theatrical review in the Jewish publication, Wochenblatt, finding it "a pity" that, under the direction of Andrew Allen, "such obvious talents at the New Play Society" should waste them on a play as weak as Eugene O'Neill's Ah Wilderness!.

During his career Cohen becomes by far the most important advocate for Canadian plays addressing particular Canadian issues, and his critical encouragement is crucial in the development of new Canadian playwrights. (A symptom of the necessity for this is that even over a quarter-of-a-century later, a review in The New York Times – talking of George Ryga in 1973 – could declare that the words "Canadian" and "playwright" seemed "incongruous together, like 'Panamanian hockey-player' almost, or 'Lebanese fur-trapper'…"). Twenty years after his first review, Cohen was the only major critic to support John Herbert's play about homosexuality and prison life, Fortune in Men's Eyes, recommending it in 1996 to New York director David Rothenberg, who had just staged Megan Terry's powerful anti-Vietnam War play Viet Rock, and defending it against the attacks of other Canadian critics as posing "a truly critical challenge."

Cohen's stature was such that that he features as the main character in play about Ibsen and the demand for a new Nationalism in Theatre, and became the subject of a revue. He also has a stage named after him at the Young People's Theatre in Toronto.