From the Tony award-winning shows to the off-off-Broadway plays, Arlene Barbara Cohen Epstein wrote elegantly and with intelligence for roughly 33 years for the South Shore Record.
Epstein, an Atlantic Beach resident, died on Jan. 6. She was 82.
The oldest daughter of Harry Cohen and Sally Firetag Cohen, Epstein graduated from Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, attended Brandeis University, graduated Barnard University and earned a master’s in education from Hofstra University.
“My mother always loved to write, and she was an exceptional writer, a gift that she passed on to her children and grandchildren,” her daughter, Jolie Epstein Kapelus said. “Over the years, along wit her hundreds of theater reviews, she wrote about fine art, film, dance and music in her ‘Critic At Leisure’ column, and she was quite knowledgeable about them all.”
An accomplished golfer, Epstein achieved Life Master status with the American Contract Bridge League. However, it was her writing prowess that allowed her to shine and “her crowning professional achievement was as a theater critic,” said her son, Adam.
A prolific writer, her weekly “Critic-at-Leisure“ column for the South Shore Record was typically 800 words and a stable for theatergoers to know what to see and what not to see. More than likely she loved a show, as she was a great supporter of the theater, but when she didn’t, she told her readers the reason with a soundness of logic that would make Aristotle jealous.
“Arlene’s passion was the theater and she brought an insider’s knowledge to her well-read reviews,” said Randi Kreiss, a former editor.
She was a member and served on the board of the prestigious Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle, and a member of both the American Theatre Critics Association and the League of Professional Women in Theater.
“I grew up on Broadway show tunes, and my mother continued to nurture an incredible love of and appreciation for the theater that has stayed with me and is an essential part of each of her grandchildren as well,” Kapelus said, “taking them to theater with her was her greatest pleasure, especially in her later years. All six grandchildren made it to ‘Hamilton’ one or more times!”
Her philanthropy stretched across several organizations, including the Laura Rosenberg Foundation for Pediatric Leukemia, Israel Tennis Centers, Peninsula Counseling Center, Five Towns Community Chest and South Shore Juvenile Diabetes Sweethearts Tennis.
“She was interesting, as there were people who adored her and as warm and generous as she was, she could be demanding,” Adam said. “She loved the theater and focused on the grandchildren.”
Predeceased by her husband of 58 years, Harvey in 2015, and by her sister Lydia Saiger, in 1986, Epstein is survived by Adam, his wife Ilene; daughter Jolie Epstein Kapelus and her husband Jerome; six grandchildren, Samantha, Casey and Brett Epstein, and Liza, Sydney and Griffin Kapelus; by her special niece Aimee Saiger, sister Patricia Caeser and her husband Vince Stehle, and brother, Jeffrey Cohen and his wife Kathy and the extended Epstein, Hyman and Firetag families in New York and Charleston, South Carolina.
There was a graveside funeral at Mt. Ararat Cemetery in Lindenhurst on Jan. 8. Shiva was observed at the homes of her children in Hewlett and New York City.
“She now has the title she always wanted, ‘the late Arlene Epstein’ as she was never on time for anything,” Adam said, knowing that her editors pulled their hair out waiting for Epstein to file her column.