Friday, March 21, 2008

Des McAnuff: A History

From Simon Houpt at the Globe and Mail:

"The epic personality clashes that brought the Stratford Shakespeare Festival briefly to its knees last week, and saw two of its three artistic directors depart in anger, may have shocked the Canadian theatrical community, but they were no surprise to those who knew Des McAnuff, Stratford's last man standing, when he ran California's La Jolla Playhouse.

"In 18 seasons at the helm of that once-comatose regional theatre, McAnuff earned a fearsome reputation as a visionary who could be brilliant, maddening and egotistical, a personally and professionally provocative director who demanded the best of his actors, designers and craftspeople and, in turn, gave the same of himself. Yet while McAnuff has a reputation as an adept charmer, he is not known as a man who likes to share power, nor will he back down from a fight.

"And in La Jolla, the San Diego suburb which he put on the theatrical map by exporting almost a dozen shows to Broadway and making the Playhouse a magnet for talent, even his critics praise his achievements.

"'He's tremendously gifted. He really is a visionary. But like many visionaries, he's erratic,' says Anne Marie Welsh, who covered dance and theatre at The San Diego Tribune for 23 years. 'It's like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead.' As the poem goes (to paraphrase): When he's good, he's very, very good; and when he's not, he's horrid.

"And at the moment, there are whisperings that McAnuff is worse than horrid, that he is solely responsible for the sucker punch that Stratford is now absorbing. McAnuff is doing all he can to counter that perception. After Don Shipley and Marti Maraden suddenly resigned last week amid significant but thus far undisclosed disagreements, McAnuff insisted he had never intended to grab the Stratford, Ont., festival all for himself. And though he has just flown back from London, where he opened a West End production of his hit musical Jersey Boys to rave reviews on Tuesday night, and next season's schedule is in sudden disarray, he is making himself as available as possible to the press."

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