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Devoted actor Neil Garvey dies; Shakespeare fan helped save theater

Neil Garvey, a Buffalo actor and attorney who helped to guide Shakespeare in Delaware Park through one of its roughest patches in the early 1990s, died Wednesday morning in East Aurora, three weeks after undergoing heart surgery. He was 56.

Garvey, who has appeared on many local stages in dozens of productions since the mid-'80s, was known in the theater community as a lover of language and a committed devotee of Shakespeare. He appeared in more than 25 Shakespeare in Delaware Park productions, beginning with "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1980 and ending with a 2009 performance in "The Tempest."

In the interim, Garvey appeared in dozens of productions on local stages, including "The Importance of Being Earnest," "Arms and the Man" and "The Threepenny Opera" at the Irish Classical Theatre Company, several performances of A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters" with Mary Kate O'Connell and an Artie Award-winning performance as Sir Wilfred in the Kavinoky Theatre's 1997 production of Agatha Christie's "Witness for the Prosecution."

Garvey earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University at Buffalo. He became a lawyer in 1984 and served as a trial attorney with his family's law firm, Garvey and Garvey, specializing in personal injury law.

"My attraction to Shakespeare, no doubt, is the language," Garvey told News Critic Terry Doran in 1996. "It's probably my attraction to the law. The law ultimately is about words, and you'd better damn well know what the words mean. And what other influence on the English language comes close to Shakespeare?"

In recent years, Garvey remained active on the theater scene, contributing long, erudite theater reviews to the local website Buffalo Rising. Funeral and memorial services have not yet been announced. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to Shakespeare in Delaware Park, P.O. Box 716, Buffalo, NY 14205.