Playwright James Russell (Russ) Lees died on Jan. 4 in Montreal. Best known for his 1999 Off-Broadway political production, Nixon’s Nixon, which won plaudits from critics, including a first in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Lees was a prolific writer. In addition to Nixon’s Nixon—Lees’s imagining of a meeting between a rather inebriated Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on the night before Nixon resigned as president—he penned the critically acclaimed Monticel’, an historical play capturing the drama of the political infighting that threatened the election of President Thomas Jefferson.
Born in Salt Lake City on May 8, 1957, to parents Jay Lees, a theatre director and college professor, and Patricia Lees, he left Utah as a teen to pursue computer engineering at Boston University. He then went on to Stanford University for his Master’s in computer engineering. Upon entering the working world, however, he quickly realized he didn’t like computer engineering and chose to follow his true love, playwriting. Eventually he went back to Boston University to get a Master’s in playwriting.
While pursuing his craft, Lees co-founded the TheatreWorks/West production company in Salt Lake City, where he both wrote and directed numerous stage plays. He also held the role of director of French-language plays at the University of Utah.
In addition to his theatre career, Lees was a very well-known writer/director in the video gaming industry. He broke into the gaming industry in the mid-1990s, writing and directing the PC horror adventure The Dark Eye, a digital adaptation of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Perhaps Lees’s defining gaming legacy lies in his decade-long work at Montreal’s Ubisoft, where he penned narratives, scripts, and sub-stories for numerous titles in The Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and Watch Dogs franchises.
Lees is survived by his daughters, Charlotte and Madeleine; his wife, Lisa; his sisters, Melinda “Mindy” Lees Webb (Stan Webb); Becky “Bick” Priscilla Lees; his brother, Jay Terry Lees (Julie Lowell); and many nieces and nephews.
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