Thirty-five years ago, George C. White founded the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, CT, as a place where playwrights could develop their work in a supportive, greenhouse-type environment. The O'Neill Center continues to grow and develop, but White announced that this would be his last summer at the helm as executive director. A search committee, headed by Tom Viertel, was formed, and last week they announced that a new executive director has been chosen: Howard Sherman, formerly of the Goodspeed, Hartford Stage and Geva.
A New Haven native, Sherman graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and worked for eight years as public relations director for CT's Hartford Stage. That led to four years as general manager of the nearby Goodspeed Opera House, followed, in 1998, by his move to Upstate New York's Geva. As managing director there, he oversaw the completion of a $4 million capital campaign and construction of a 180-seat second stage space.
Sherman will visit the O'Neill Center throughout the summer and take over Jan. 1, 2001 -- the day after White officially retires. Said Sherman in a statement of the change, "It is certainly a daunting task to follow in the footsteps of George White, who visioned and led the O'Neill with such passion and creativity... The O'Neill Center has a mandate of fostering theatrical creativity in countless forms."
Annual programs at the O'Neill include the National Playwrights Conference (NPC), wherein more than a dozen plays receive workshop stagings in front of an audience; the National Critics Institute, which helps train theatre and film critics, the Cabaret Symposium and the National Music Theatre Conference.
This summer, the Playwrights Conference will present 13 public, staged readings -- whittled down from 715 initial submissions -- and three internal workshops: Christina Anderson's Breath of an American Spirit, Liz Swados and John Belluso's Body Songs, and Kia Corthron's Breath, Boom. The staged readings will be: • Lee Blessing's Thief River, about the two men whose lives intersect for many decades.
• Alexandra Cunningham's Pavane, about a piano prodigy and her domineering stage mother.
• Sarah C. Diamond's Madinina, about a woman who refuses to participate in an arranged marriage.
• Ron Fitzgerald's Parts Unknown, about a various oddball all trying to find peace and meaning in modern America.
• Daisy Foote's The Hand of God, about a woman who hopes God will keep her family together.
• Jerome Hairston's a.m. Sunday, about an interracial couple troubled by their son's current relationship.
• Wendy Hammond's Road Rage: A Love Story, about assembly line workers who fall in love but are troubled by the ghost of a murdered daughter.
• Hilly Hicks, Jr.'s The Home Life of Polar Bears tells of a family of over-achievers getting ready to be interviewed by "60 Minutes."
• Susan Kim's Where It Came From is about a 12-year-old trying to make it to 13 without a breakdown.
• David Lindsay-Abaire's Kimberly Akimbo, about a young girl trapped in the body of an old woman.
• Dmitry Lipkin's Skitaletz ("The Wanderer") about an otherworldly spirit who enters a family of Russian immigrants.
• Peter Morris' The Square Root of Minus One is about a student drawn into the world of two bullies.
• John Henry Redwood's No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs, is about a woman afraid to tell her husband about being raped because she's afraid of the revenge he'd take.
As for the National Critics Institute, according to NCI director Dan Sullivan (reached June 20), twelve "critic fellows" will take part in some or all of the four-week program. Expected are Kevin Nance (theatre and dance critic for Nashville Tennessean), Byron Woods (Raleigh, NC), Julie York (IN's South Bend Tribune), Mary Jo Palumbo (MA's Boston Herald), Maya Avrasin (FL), Miriam Chirico (teaches at University of North Florida), Nancy Kean Roche (past president of the Board of Directors at Baltimore Center Stage), John Williams (freelancer from Eugene, OR), Christine Frederickson (works as script adviser at the Fountain Theatre in L.A.), and Steve Cramer (Scotland). A contest by the American College Theatre Festival allows a promising college student to take part as well, with Christopher Piatt (Kansas State University, KS) winning this year. Runner up Julie Culver (Middlebury College in VT) will also be part of the group of critic fellows.
Their professional mentors will include longtime NCI teachers Judy Rousuck (Baltimore Sun), Michael Feingold (Village Voice) and Jay Novick (Purchase College), as well as John Habich (arts editor at Minneapolis Star Tribune), Linda Winer (Newsday), John Henderson (Newsday film critic), David Sterritt (Christian Science Monitor film critic), and playwright Jeffrey Sweet.
All the playwrights are in residence at the O'Neill Center June 30-July 29, with each play receiving a week of intensive rehearsals followed by two public performances. For tickets and information call (860) 443-1238 after July 2.
-- By David Lefkowitz