Benefit Reading of Bentley Play to Launch New Phoenix Theatre Ensemble Oct. 25

News   Benefit Reading of Bentley Play to Launch New Phoenix Theatre Ensemble Oct. 25 The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble—the new troupe formed by former Jean Cocteau Repertory Theatre stalwarts Craig Smith and Elise Stone—will come to life on Oct. 25 with a benefit reading of Are You Now Or Have You Ever by Eric Bentley, at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side.

Bentley will also narrate his play, the dialogue of which is drawn from the hearings before the House on Un-American Activities Committee. The large cast will include Smith, Jason O’Connell, Fred Berman, Jason Crowl, Joe Menino, Tim Gregory, Ashley Smith, Lex Woutas, Christopher Black, Peter Sander, Brian Costello, Patrick Hall, Gerry Goodstein, Erik Sherr, Danaher Dempsey, Al Pagano, John Giampetro, Scott Shattuck, Tim Deak, Joe Small and Tim Morton. The event begins at 7 PM and tickets are $50.

Smith and Stone, who were ensemble members at the Bowery-based Jean Cocteau for a combined 50 years, suddenly resigned from the company last August. Also tendering their resignations at the time were fellow ensemble performers Angela Madden and Michael Surabian and five members of the 11-person Jean Cocteau board.

According to Smith and Stone, who are married, the break was long in coming. "It's something we've been getting to for a while," Stone told Playbill On-Line in August. "There's been a disillusionment with the theatre and the course it's been taking." The Cocteau has long been unique in the New York theatre world—a genuine repertory company focused on the classics and equipped with a standing ensemble. It was founded in 1971 by Eve Adamson and has been working out of the Bouwerie Lane Theatre on the Bowery since 1974. Aside from Adamson, who still directs from time to time, two of the most constant features of the company have been Smith and Stone. Smith joined the ensemble in 1973, Stone in 1985. If was not unusual to find critics and theatregoers who thought of the Cocteau essentially as the theatre where those two actors could be seen. Smith alone has appeared in more than 200 productions there.

Smith said the Pheonix would be ensemble-directed. "We will be governed by a core group of actors, but there will be one decision maker, who will rotate."

Smith said he envisioned the troupe would stage both classics as well as commission new plays complementary to those classics. The name of the company is reminiscent of the Phoenix Theatre, the trailblazing Off Broadway company which focused on a mix of classics and new plays, and functioned in a variety of forms from the 1950s to the 1980s.