Local theater critic Thomas (a.k.a. T.H.) McCulloh died Sunday of complications resulting from congestive heart failure at the age of 69. Also a dramatist, he was a critic with a soft spot for playwrights, and a hard spot for directors taking liberties with classics. “The main purpose of the theater is to entertain,” he told the Weekly in 1992, expressing his frustration with stage productions that add contemporary political resonance to Shakespeare, or to the ancient Greeks. Born in Minneapolis, he worked here in the recording industry for a while before writing theater criticism for DramaLogue in 1979. From 1989 to 2001, he wrote drama reviews for the Los Angeles Times¸ after which he was a fixture with Backstage West. McCulloh was an eloquent and literate critic, and particularly appreciative, even emotional, in his reviews of plays that had those same qualities. He could also be cantankerous in print.
McCulloh was respected and liked by his peers on the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, on which he served for over two decades, one term as president. He was also a member of the American Theater Critics Association. Among his eccentricities was his hobby of making pasta from scratch. He was also what might be described as a heavy and defiant smoker. Following his heart surgery, you could find him outside a theater, on a sidewalk during intermission, with an oxygen canister in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, shaking his head and speaking with an angry quaver about how the set design was ruining the play. Beneath such bursts of indignation were an uncompromising passion and a kind, generous heart, recognized by all who knew him. He is survived by his nephew, Robert (Tom) McCulloh Jr. of Armonk, New York, and his niece, Barbara Bucci of Tarrytown, New York. A private funeral is planned.