Lloyd Richards, for 29 years the artistic director of the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center, will leave his position after next season. A successor has yet to be announced.
Richards joined the Center in 1968, only three years after chairman George C. White founded the NPC as a place where American playwrights could develop their work in a summer camp-like setting. Since then, each July 12-15 playwrights arrive at Waterford, CT, where their plays are staged, book-in-hand, by a mix of established and up-and- coming actors, in front of colleagues and playing audiences.
Former dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of Yale Rep (1979-91), Richard has been honored with the title "Professor Emeritus" of the drama school. His directing career includes the original Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun. He's best known, however, for staging several of August Wilson's plays in the 1980s and 1990s, including The Piano Lesson and Fences, which won Richards a directing Tony Award. In 1993, President Bill Clinton awarded Richards with the National Medal of the Arts.
For all these honors and activities, though, Richards still makes sure to open every performance at the O'Neill with a brief speech, citing the quantity of plays received for consideration (1,600 this year) and the importance of giving dramatists a place to develop work out of the glare of the Broadway and regional theatre spotlight.
Richards' departure will cap a transitional period for the O'Neill, since this past winter the Center's first dramaturg (and a key spiritual figure and presence), critic Edith Oliver, passed away. Another loss was that of, Margo Rose, a generous donor to the O'Neill, especially during its nascent years. Dramaturg Phil Barry also passed away this past season. There's also a lingering sadness that the legendary copper beech tree, located in a central spot on the O'Neill grounds that served as a shaded meeting place for conferences and critiques, was all but destroyed in a windstorm this winter. On the positive side, new National Theatre Institute president Steve Wood has helped raise significant funding for the Center. Also, a number of recent grants and fellowships have been established, including the Harold & Mimi Steinberg Prize of $100,000 as "first money investment" in a play at the O'Neill shown to have serious commercial potential. Also new, thanks to a grant from the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, is the Edith Oliver Fellowship to a critic who, like former New Yorker scribe Oliver, uses "caustic wit that deflates the ego but does not unduly damage the human spirit."
-- By David Lefkowitz