Reuben and Dorothy Silver, Actors and Directors


For nearly half a century, Reuben and Dorothy Silver have illuminated the Cleveland theater scene: as performers, directors, administrators, teachers and mentors. That they have contributed their talents as a couple has only enhanced their achievement.

Reuben began his career in 1933, as a child actor in Detroit's Yiddish theater. Although he and Dorothy briefly attended the same high school, they wouldn't discover each other until 1948, when Reuben was captivated by her performance in a Tennessee Williams production at Wayne State University. They married the following year.

Reuben spent the next six years earning his Ph.D. in theater, finishing at Ohio State University. That led to his first Cleveland role: the artistic directorship of Karamu House, the nation's oldest African-American cultural organization. His arrival was timely, for it coincided with white America's awakening interest in social change. It allowed him to work with Cleveland native Langston Hughes, mounting Hughes's plays and creating additional theater based on his poetry.

Karamu also provided an artistic home for Dorothy, who served there in every capacity from actor and assistant director to resident guest director. They remained on staff for 21 years.

But Cleveland audiences think of the Silvers, first and foremost, as Cleveland's own Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Masters of understatement, they can also explode onstage. She is riveting, even when silent. He exudes an irrepressible spirit. When they delve into their carefully chosen scripts, the results are pure magic. Among their most memorable combined performances: The Visit, Death of a Salesman and Glass Menagerie (Cleveland State University's Factory Theatre); The Gin Game and A Trip to Bountiful (Cleveland Heights's Ensemble Theatre); All My Sons (Jewish Community Center's Halle Theatre); and The Dybbuk (Great Lakes Theater Festival).

In 1976, when Karamu trustees decided to look for a black artistic director, the Silvers moved on. Reuben found a niche at Cleveland State University, where together with Joe Garry, he built a wide-reaching theater arts program and mounted first-class productions in the Factory Theatre space. He remained there until 1993, when he was named professor emeritus.

For 12 years, Dorothy directed the Performing and Visual Arts Department at the Jewish Community Center (JCC). Among her proudest achievements was mounting new theatrical work, including Barbara Lebow's A Shayna Maidel (1982), which went on to critical success in New York and London. After Dorothy retired from the JCC, the Halle Theatre's annual new play competition bore her name.

Although their first four decades of theater would be anyone else's crowning achievement, the Silvers have enjoyed a “retirement” that is the envy of any theater professional: They are constantly working.

By design, they tend to work together. If the script has a part for only one, the other directs. In selected memorable actor/director collaborations, Reuben played an enraged and uncompromising patriarch in The Substance of Fire (at Cleveland Heights's Dobama Theatre); and Dorothy gave bravura performances as a betrayed mentor in Collected Stories (JCC Halle Theatre) and a fiercely proud Maria Callas in Master Class (Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood).

The couple, who have three grown sons and three grandchildren, travel frequently. They have performed readings of Jewish drama throughout the U.S., Israel, Europe and the former Soviet Union. They are sought-after panelists, judges and consultants. For many years, they were annual tour guides to the Stratford Festival in Ontario.

Closer to home, the Silvers produce “Cold Storage,” a small acting company that explains the patient's viewpoint to medical personnel. They appear in film, television, and radio. For more than two decades, Reuben has hosted the weekly ArtsRap on Cleveland's classical music station, WCLV 104.9 FM.

And Cleveland will always be home for the Silvers. It's not only where the phone is constantly ringing; it's where all their dreams have come to glorious fruition.

—Faye Sholiton

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •