Johns inherits a troupe that has just experienced what is perhaps the most tumultuous season in its 35-year history. In August 2004, longtime Jean Cocteau ensemble members Craig Smith and Elise Stone resigned from the company. Also tendering their resignations were fellow ensemble performers Angela Madden and Michael Surabian and five members of the 11-person Jean Cocteau board.
At the time, Stone, who is married to Smith, said, "It's something we've been getting to for a while. There's been a disillusionment with the theatre and the course it's been taking. A lot has to do with the makeup with what's referred to as an acting company." Smith added: "The quality of the work in recent years has really plateaued out, in my opinion."
Smith and Stone went on to form a new theatre company, the Pheonix Theatre, which has since staged two productions.
Fuller said at the time that the actors' exit came as a surprise to him. "I remain committed to [founder] Eve Adamson's vision of the theatre," he stated, "which is to produce a broad repertory of plays and to nurture an ensemble." The Cocteau, for many years a non-Equity house, now operates under a Letter of Agreement contract with the actors union. Fuller said it is his goal that the Cocteau eventually become a League of Resident Theatres (LORT) company, which would put it on par with such New York City powerhouses as the Roundabout Theatre Company and Lincoln Center Theatre.
Johns has directing past Cocteau productions such as The Importance of Being Earnest, The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Doña Rosita the Spinster, and last season's The Maids. Fuller, meanwhile, will maintain a relationship with the company. He will direct a production of Mother Courage in the fall.
The 2005-06 season will also include Euripides’ Medea, Shaw's Candida, Strindberg's Miss Julie and O'Neill's Anna Christie.
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 had 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 had appeared in more than 200 productions there.