Exit, Michael Ritchie: Williamstown's 2004 Season Comes to a Close Aug. 22

News   Exit, Michael Ritchie: Williamstown's 2004 Season Comes to a Close Aug. 22 On Aug. 22, Williamstown Theatre Festival will close out the final two offerings overseen by departing producer Michael Ritchie: The Cherry Orchard on the Main Stage and Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams by Terrence McNally on the Nikos Stage.
Michael Ritchie
Michael Ritchie

With the shuttering of those two efforts, the sun sets on the WTF tenure of Ritchie. Ritchie is leaving the Berkshires company to become the new artistic director of Los Angeles' Center Theatre Group, overseeing the Mark Taper Forum, the Ahmanson Theatre and the new Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. He officially replaces Gordon Davidson Jan. 1, 2005.

CTG current artistic director Davidson will continue to plan and present the 2004-2005 season with artistic director designate Ritchie, who will commute between coasts while completing his final season with WTF. In 2005, Davidson will assume the role of Founding Artistic Director and serve as a consultant to CTG for three years.

Worcester, Massachusetts, native Ritchie started out in theatre in 1980 as a stage manager in New York, handling more than 50 shows in 15 years on and Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater, Circle in the Square, Circle Rep, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Playwrights Horizons, City Center and the National Actors’ Theatre. He worked on such notable productions as Our Town (starring Spalding Gray and Eric Stoltz), Candida (with Joanne Woodward), You Never Can Tell (with Uta Hagen), Arms and the Man (Kevin Kline and Raul Julia), A Streetcar Named Desire (with Blythe Danner and Aidan Quinn as well as the Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin) and Present Laughter (with his wife Kate Burton and Nathan Lane).

He was appointed producer of the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1996. Under his guidance, WTF has developed and presented new works including David Rabe's Corners, A.R. Gurney's Far East, Paul Rudnick's The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, John Guare's Chaucer in Rome, Warren Leight's The Glimmer Brothers and Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery.

Recent Broadway productions that began at WTF include Hedda Gabler, One Mo’ Time, The Price, The Rainmaker and The Man Who Had All the Luck. The Williamstown Theatre Festival also won the 2002 Regional Theatre Tony Award. Ritchie will attend one more WTF event on an official basis: the 50th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, Aug. 28. If was previously thought that the identity of Williamstown's new a.d. would be announced at this event. However, it now appears that decision will not be reached until fall.

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Linda Emond, Tony nominated for Life x 3 and an Obie winner for Homebody/Kabul, is Madame Ranevskaya in the Williamstown Theatre Festival mounting of Chekhov's comedy of change and loss, The Cherry Orchard.

Also starring are Michelle Williams of "Dawson's Creek" fame, as Varya, Reed Birney (Homebody/Kabul, Bug) as Ranevskaya's sentimental brother Gaev, Jessica Chastain as Anya and Frank Raiter as the ancient servant Firs.

The cast also features Ritchie Coster, John Forest, Jonathan Fried, Jason Kaufman, Chris Messina (Salome: The Reading, Far Away), Jessica Stone (The Smell of the Kill), Brenda Wehle, and Lee Wilkof (Kiss Me, Kate). Michael Greif directs.

The season-concluding production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard will continue WTF's time-honored devotion to the Russian master. Chekhov was a favorite of festival founder Nikos Psacharopoulos. However, producer Michael Ritchie noted that he (Ritchie) had never produced Chekhov on the Main Stage during his tenure.

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Playwright Terrence McNally's new play Dedication received its premiere at Festival. Boyd Gaines, Debra Monk, Kellie Overbey, Darren Pettie, Larry Pine, R.E. Rodgers and Marian Seldes star. "It's a play about a couple who live in upstate New York. On the weekends, they run, manage and produce a small children's theatre which does things like Puss in Boots and Alice and Wonderland," the scribe told Playbill On-Line.

"They are given an opportunity to take over an old abandoned, decaying theatre which was once on the vaudeville circuit. It was a theatre that Sarah Bernhardt played in and Oscar Wilde gave a lecture in. It has an illustrious past and the old lady who owns it is looking for a person to pass it on to and she's willing to pay for the renovation. And these people become candidates," explained McNally. He added that the play is about "what price they're willing to pay to have their own theatre."

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