Mr. Christiansen went to work for The Chicago Daily News in 1957. He started on the night shift, but by the early 1960s he was writing more and more about the arts — books, television, music. And theater.
He left The Daily News in 1973 to edit a new magazine, The Chicagoan, but when it went out of business after 18 months he returned to The Daily News. When that paper went under in 1978, he was picked up by The Tribune.
As a critic, Mr. Christiansen was no cheerleader; if he thought a production was bad, he wasn’t shy about saying so. His opening sentence in a 1985 review of a drama called “White Biting Dog” at Remains Theater said simply, “‘White Biting Dog’ shouldn’t happen to a dog.”
But if he liked a show, his words could help make the reputations of actors, directors and companies. An oft-cited case in point was his 1983 review of Jack Henry Abbott’s “In the Belly of the Beast: Letters From Prison” at Wisdom Bridge Theater, a production directed by Mr. Falls and starring William L. Petersen, the actor now well known from the television series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” Mr. Christiansen wrote of Mr. Petersen’s stage mannerisms and craftsmanship, then said this:
“These qualities are admirable in acting, and can be accounted for, but how do I account for the fact that minutes after leaving the theater Thursday night, I had to pull my car over to the side of the street so that I could clear the tears from my eyes?”
Afterward, the Chicago theater world was said to refer to a rave from Mr. Christiansen as “a pull over.”
Some critics keep a distance from actors, directors and others they write about, but Mr. Christiansen, who leaves no immediate survivors, was known to talk shop with those in the theater world, and to offer career guidance.
In the mid-1980s, for instance, he went to a showcase production of Shakespeare scenes staged by a young director and actress named Barbara Gaines, liked it and invited Ms. Gaines to lunch.