Actor, director, producer, and teacher Gabriel Kuttner, a well-known presence on Outer Cape stages for more than a decade, died at his home in Amherst on Oct. 5, 2019 of an accidental drug overdose. He was 45.
Kuttner’s credits were copious: the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, Harbor Stage Company, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Lyric Stage, New Rep, Stoneham Theatre, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Israeli Stage, and Publick Theatre, among others. He was a founding member of Orfeo Group, and twice won IRNE awards. He taught at Boston Conservatory, Salem State University, and Northeastern University.
Gabe was born in Washington, D.C. on April 7, 1974 and moved to Brookline with his family, where he attended public schools.
“He struggled in school,” said his father, writer and teacher Robert Kuttner, this week. “He found himself as an actor, first at an intensive summer program for high school juniors at Boston University, and then he auditioned into a year at the O’Neill Theatre Center in New London as a freshman in a program usually for college juniors. The visiting director at the O’Neill that year was from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and he invited Gabe to audition for LAMDA. He was the only American accepted in his class.”
He spent eight years in London, the last five performing and directing. He mounted a production of Sam Shepard’s “Shaved Splits” at the Edinburgh Festival and did TV commercials and narration for the BBC. He lived for two years on the royalties from a T-Mobile commercial and a Swiffer commercial.
“He had an uncanny ear for accents,” said his father. “At LAMDA he was rated ‘native’ for several regional English, Irish, and Scots dialects.”
Gabe returned to the U.S. in the early 2000s and embarked on an expansive acting and directing career in Boston and on the Cape. His most memorable work included “Heisenberg” at both the Boston Public Theatre and in Provincetown and “Fully Committed,” a one-man tour de force that requires the actor to play more than 40 parts, all with different voices.
“Gabe and I met on a production of Tracy Letts’s play ‘Bug’ at WHAT,” said Harbor Stage founder Bob Kropf. They played brothers in a production of John Kolvenbach’s “On an Average Day.”
“Gabe was all about making things actually happen,” Kropf said. “Having artistic control. Pushing boundaries, and going all the way, artistically. Whenever we worked together, it wasn’t like work. It was like comrades getting together to crack something open. More like musicians jamming. It was loose and easy and mysterious and free — a like-mindedness with regard to this strange vocation.”
“In addition to being a gifted actor, he was very entrepreneurial,” said director Jeff Zinn, who worked with Kuttner at WHAT. “He had been a creator of the ‘Shit-Faced Shakespeare’ project. The idea was that a small troupe of actors would do a Shakespeare play and one of them would get shit-faced drunk and perform and the others would be onstage as a kind of human bumper room.”
“He would change things up as an actor,” said Kropf, “always inventing and responding in the moment. He was wildly alive on stage.”
One of Kuttner’s last roles on the Outer Cape was in Conor McPherson’s “The Weir” at Harbor Stage in 2018, directed by Kropf. He played Finbar Mack.
“Gabe reached a kind of artistic pinnacle with this role,” said Kropf. “Anyone who was lucky enough to see it knows exactly what I mean. It was staggeringly real and funny and sad and true. He showed up with a suit he’d found. He wore it on day one of rehearsals through to the opening. It was exactly right. He was the guy, from the first read. He was always the first actor off book. He wanted to be able to play and explore and make the most of every second of rehearsal.”
“One of his most poignant and dazzling performances was in 2015 in ‘God’s Ear,’ a play about a couple who have lost a son,” said Gabe’s father. “One of his last was ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ including an outdoor performance at the Arnold Arboretum before an audience of about 1,500.”
The Arboretum will be naming a tree in Gabe’s memory, and next summer’s season at Wellfleet’s Harbor Stage will be dedicated to him.
Gabe leaves his father, Robert Kuttner, and stepmother, Joan Fitzgerald, of Boston and Truro; a son, Alexander Kuttner; a stepdaughter, Lula Taylor; his wife, Lori Taylor; a sister, Jessica Kuttner, and her husband, Jack Stewart; his stepsister and brother-in-law, Shelly Fitzgerald and Vincent Lorenzo; his uncles, John Trotter and Gordon Levy, and aunt, Darlene Levy; and three nephews and a niece.
There will be a memorial service on Saturday, Nov. 2 in Boston.
“Underneath his antic joy, he was fragile,” said Gabe’s father. “His own pain was part and parcel of his capacity to go very deep into the human soul, which made him such a great actor and loved friend to a large community. If Gabriel hadn’t died of an accidental overdose of adulterated cocaine, he might have died from getting eaten by a shark as he surfed 100 yards off Ballston Beach, ignoring the warnings; or from missing a turn on the triple black diamond ski slopes that he loved; or from weaving his motorcycle down Route 6 in a hailstorm. He lived a life of joyous, generous, exuberant excess.”