Jeff Weiss, an playwright and actor who was a notable part of the Off-Broadway experimental theatre community, passed away September 18 from metastasized prostate cancer. News of his death was confirmed to the New York Times by his brother. He was 82.
Born April 30, 1940, Jeffrey George Weiss grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the son of a cement company executive. He began writing plays in adolescence before leaving formal schooling at the age of 16. Soon he moved to New York, where he became an important member of the burgeoning experimental theatre scene of the 1960s.
His work was seen at Caffe Cino in the West Village, La MaMa on the Lower East Side and numerous other Off-Broadway and Off Off-Broadway venues known for pushing the boundaries of provocation. He later founded Good Medicine and Company, a Lower East Side theatre with 10 seats and spotty electricity that he ran with his partner in theatre and in life, Carlos Ricardo Martinez. Profits from their small-scale productions were often funneled directly into providing dinner for theatregoers, with Mr. Martinez preparing the meal while Mr. Weiss would be performing onstage.
Mr. Weiss's plays strictly resisted classification or description; 1972's F.O.B. featured Mr. Weiss immersed in a bathtub of cold water, 1992's Hot Keys was a late-night serial about a serial killer in response to the AIDS crisis, and his most ambitious work, … And That’s How the Rent Gets Paid., took place over several decades, with Part 1 being staged in 1966, and Part 4 in 1984. Mr. Weiss frequently acted in his own work, often playing all of the characters.
In 1986, he was cast in Hamlet at the Public Theater opposite Kevin Kline, who was a longtime admirer of Mr. Weiss's work. He portrayed the Player King, Hamlet's father, and Osric, receiving glowing notices. That production began a new phase of Mr. Weiss's career, including Broadway appearances in Macbeth alongside Glenda Jackson and Christopher Plummer, a revival of Our Town, Present Laughter, The Invention of Love, and Henry IV, again with Kevin Kline.
In 1997, Mr. Weiss moved back to Allentown to be closer to his aging mother, although he continued to return to New York to appear in productions on a limited basis. Mr. Martinez moved with him, and Mr. Weiss later cared for him until his death in 2017 from Parkinson's disease.
Mr. Weiss is survived by his brother, Steve.