After serving only a six-month term, artistic director Ernest Johns resigned in recent weeks, leaving the classics company temporarily leaderless. Johns replaced David Fuller, whose tenure was undermined in August 2004 when longtime Jean Cocteau ensemble members Craig Smith and Elise Stone resigned from the company. Also tendering their resignations at that time were fellow ensemble performers Angela Madden and Michael Surabian and five members of the 11-person Jean Cocteau board.
Ira Teller, the company's new press spokesman, told Playbill.com that the troupe's board will meet on March 6 to survey a series of new measures meant to get the Cocteau back on track. Should the board issue its approval, the Cocteau will on March 9 announce the identity of a new artistic director, as well as some changes in scheduling. "The Cocteau will be in great shape," said Teller, who is based in Los Angeles and is the father of Cocteau managing director Ryan Teller.
Of Johns' departure, Ira Teller, "as you know, in recent months there have been defections. Founder Eve Adamson left, and company member Craig Smith left. After that, there really wasn't an artistic leader with the same kind of direction that they had."
He refuted recent rumors that had the company closing and leaving its longtime home, the Bowerie Lane Theatre on the Bowery in lower Manhattan. One claim that the company would dissolve came from assistant artistic director Seth Duerr, who left the company on Feb. 24. The Cocteau will remain at the Bowerie Lane, Teller said.
After leaving the Cocteau, Smith and Stone went on to form a new theatre company, the Pheonix Theatre, which has since staged three productions. 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."
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 was 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 had 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.
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.