What Theatre Nurtured David Mamet, Martin McDonagh, David Yazbek and More? | Playbill

Special Features What Theatre Nurtured David Mamet, Martin McDonagh, David Yazbek and More? Artistic director Neil Pepe celebrates 25 years of supporting theatre’s great writers.
Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk Ahron R. Foster

Neil Pepe looks very much as he did when he first crossed the Atlantic Theater Company stage in 1991 as Andrei Sergeyevich Prozorov, the reckless brother who gambled away the futures of The Three Sisters. Atlantic’s founding fathers—David Mamet, who adapted, and William H. Macy, who directed this revival—ushered Pepe onto that stage, and since then he has rarely ventured far from it.

The following year, a leadership position opened up at the Atlantic. The gig was supposed to be for three years, but Pepe has held the post a quarter of a century, and March 6 sees him honored for 25 years of distinguished service at the Atlantic’s Director’s Choice Gala at the Pierre.

Jordan Lage, Rebecca Pidgeon, Chris Bauer, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., and director Neil Pepe Ahron R. Foster

“I was interested in the prospect, but it terrified me and excited me at the same time,” Pepe remembers. “The first couple of years were spent figuring out how to shoulder the burden of running the company, making the right artistic choices, and then having a lot of sleepless nights and panic.

“But I found, as I started planting seeds for new projects, there was always the next season, and playwrights we had launched would come back with other plays.”

Over the course of the past quarter century, Atlantic has introduced to this country the violently quirky comedy of Martin McDonagh—The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane—as well as the Tony-winning Spring Awakening, Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive, and David Yazbek’s recent new musical The Band’s Visit, which has been rumored to be eyeing a 2017 Broadway transfer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Atlantic’s most produced playwright is one of its founders: David Mamet (Speed-the-Plow, Edmond, Romance, American Buffalo, and Keep Your Pantheon, among others). In fact, the company is world-premiering a Mamet play right now: The Penitent, directed by Pepe, who usually tries to helm a show at least once a year.

Possibly because of Mamet, the playwright’s the thing at Atlantic. Some companies are director-driven, some star-driven, but this company is committed to serving the play. “I think we like writers who write for the theatre,” says Pepe. “We’ve always liked language for the theatre, whether it’s Pinter or Annie Baker or Dominique Morisseau or Stephen Adly Guirgis—writers who have a great sense of their own voice.”

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