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J. Cooper Robb, 59, theater critic and educator

Mr. Robb liked to knock on the doors of up-and-coming theater troupes and see what plays there were performing. Then he reviewed the plays for the Philadelphia Weekly. As a result, the local theater world grew.

J. Cooper Robb
J. Cooper RobbRead moreCourtesy of Karl Carter (custom credit)

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Aug. 3, for J. Cooper Robb, 59, of Newtown, a respected drama critic and adjunct professor of theater and communication studies at Bucks County Community College.

Mr. Robb died Saturday, June 22, of laryngeal cancer at home, with his husband, Karl Carter, at his side. He had been ill for the last two years.

Mr. Robb, a freelance writer, liked to approach little-known theater companies and offer to review their performances for publication in Philadelphia Weekly. As a result, he was instrumental in building theater in the Philadelphia area, his husband said.

“He would go to shows that nobody else would go to, and the next year, they would be the big thing,” Carter said.

One drama troupe whose work he supported was the Arden Theatre Company. Terry Nolen, the theater’s artistic director, described Mr. Robb as “incredibly knowledgeable” in a July 7 email to the theater’s board of directors.

“He loved actors, great writing, breakthrough performances, and was an advocate for the underdog,” Nolen wrote.

At the end of each year, Mr. Robb published his “Best of the Season” list. Being included was an honor, and Mr. Robb had a knack for identifying trends and recognizing emerging theater performers and companies.

“If you avoid the area's college theaters on the assumption that they're inferior to their professional counterparts, then you missed the year's best moment,” Mr. Robb wrote in December 2004.

Singling out Villanova Theatre’s production of the musical Parade, he wrote that “college freshman Michael Barr's intensely mournful rendition of the passionately elegiac ‘It Don't Make Sense’ was a staggering example of theater's ability to move us in profound and memorable ways.”

Born in Philadelphia and raised in Devon and Mount Airy, Mr. Robb was drawn to acting very early, producing plays at home and acting in them with his brothers.

He graduated from Germantown Friends School and earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Temple University in 1999, and a master’s degree in theater from Villanova University in 2003.

In addition to writing for Philadelphia Weekly from 1999 to 2013, he reviewed plays for the Chestnut Hill Local; TheaterMania, a website; and Backstage Magazine.

He served as a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre and on the selection committee of the F. Otto Haas Award, which annually recognizes an emerging theater artist from the Philadelphia area.

Mr. Robb had a strong empathy with actors and a cultivated sense of what made a good play. Carter said he was thrilled when he had a chance to interview his favorite playwright, Tom Stoppard, when several of his plays opened in Philadelphia.

As an adjunct professor at Bucks County Community College, Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., and Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, Mr. Robb taught courses on theater, poetry, and communication. He enjoyed sharing his love of theater with his students.

In addition to theater, Mr. Robb liked sports, especially tennis. For a time, he was a sportswriter for the Chestnut Hill Local.

Besides his husband, he is survived by his parents, Lee Cooper van de Velde and Edwin G. Robb; two brothers; step-parents Christopher Robert van de Velde and Minney Lloyd Robb; and an extended family.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, at the Arden Theatre, 40 N. Second St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19106. Burial is private.

Donations may be made to the Arden Theatre Company’s Artistic Fund, to support emerging theater artists, at the address above.