Hackett came to 88-year-old company — one of the first major regional theatres that emerged, decades before the term "regional theatre" took hold in the United States — from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he was a tenured associate professor of theatre. He will become a full professor of theatre at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, NH.
One of the last jobs under Hackett's tenure at the theatre will be to program a world premiere comedy, Leading Ladies, by Ken Ludwig, into the 2004-05 season. Playbill On-Line previously reported the play would open the Play House season in fall 2004.
In his time there, the 50-year-old Hackett created a new plays program at the Play House and helped start an actor training relationship between the theatre and Case Western Reserve University.
Under Hackett, the Play House produced Michele Lowe's The Smell of the Kill, which moved to Broadway, and Eric Coble's Bright Ideas, which was seen Off-Broadway. The company also saw its shows by Play House associate artist Randal Myler, Love, Janis and Lost Highway, get Off-Broadway berths.
Former Plain Dealer theatre critic Marianne Evett criticized Hackett in the paper Dec. 30, calling him "too mainstream, too willing to satisfy the board's tastes, which are traditional and conservative." She added, "No regional theatre should be doing Neil Simon plays or On Golden Pond." Hackett's Cleveland Play House directing credits include Dirty Blonde, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Betrayal, The Waverly Gallery, Frank Langella's Cyrano, Art, Jerusalem, A Kiss for Cinderella, Twelve Angry Men, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, A Russian Romance, The Enchanted Maze, The Grapes of Wrath, Dracula and The Gifts of the Magi.
Evett did praise his passion for new works and promoting a producing Cleveland and Ohio writers, however.
Before moving to Cleveland, Hackett was a member of the Tony Award-honored Denver Center Theatre Company, serving variously as acting artistic director, director of the National Theatre Conservatory and associate artistic director for New Play Development. He has served on panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Theatre Communications Group.
There have been talks recently about a merger of the Play House and the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, or perhaps turning the Play House into a regional performing arts center housing many groups, with Play House programs as an anchor. His successor will inherit a debt and questions about the nature of the Play House's future mission and identity.
Hackett succeeded Josephine Abady in the job. She died in 2002.
"The Play House is at a stage in our nearly 90 years of existence where our reputation in regional American Theatre allows us to command high interest in the position Peter is vacating," board president Robert Paul said in a statement. "We will commence a nationwide search for his successor, utilizing respected national theatre consultants. We are truly grateful for Peter's leadership of the theatre over this past decade and wish him nothing but the best in his new position."
Board chairman Robert Trombly heads the search committee and will begin the process in January 2004. Dean R. Gladden is the company's managing director.
Founded in 1915, The Cleveland Play House "is America's first permanently established professional theatre," according to the troupe. "Over the past 87 years, more than 11 million people have attended The Cleveland Play House's 1,300 productions — 100 of which were American and/or world premieres. At 300,000 square feet, the Philip Johnson-designed Cleveland Play House complex houses five performance spaces, making it the largest regional theatre complex in the country."