Ardis Krainik, the brilliant general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago for 15 years, will retire next April 30 at the conclusion of Lyric Opera's 1997 fiscal year. Krainik, who underwent surgery last summer, cited reasons of health for her voluntary decision.
A member of the Lyric Opera staff since the company's inception in 1954, Krainik spent many years as assistant to Lyric co-founder Carol Fox, whom she succeeded as general director in 1981. Fox herself suffered various health problems which affected the company during the last years of her tenure, but refused to relinquish control until the Lyric board forced her retirement.
Krainik took over a troupe perennially in the red and so Italiante in repertory it was derisively called "La Scala West." Within two years she had Lyric Opera in the black (where it remained), and was both expanding the season and broadening the repertory to include work by Philip Glass, Dominick Argento, and Shostakovich. Lyric commissioned an opera from William Bolcom and Arnold Weinstein (McTeague) and joined with the Met to commission The Ghosts of Versailles. Firmly committed to modern musical repertory (along with Lyric's artistic director, Bruno Bartoletti), Krainik established Towards the 21st Century in 1989, an initiative to produce two 20th-century operas every season in the 1990s. She also launched a $100 million capital campaign to purchase and modernize the 1929 Civic Opera House, the company's permanent home.
The wonderfully informal and accessible Krainik is a past president of OPERA America, and has served as an NEA council member, a board member of the Illinois Arts Alliance, and as a member of the International Association of Opera Directors. Among international opera managers, Krainik's reputation for strength owes as much to her well-publicized "firing" of Luciano Pavarotti after one cancellation too many at Lyric, as to her fiscal and artistic achievements.
The Lyric Opera board, never regarded as innovative, certainly didn't know what it was getting when it hired Krainik in 1981. The challenge now will be to find a new executive who can match Krainik's command both of art and finances. If the board search committee finds such a person, will they have the courage and insight to hire him/her?
On the Boards
Having Our Say, extended at the Briar Street Theatre through Aug. 4, is on three-week hiatus, June 22-July 10, in order to open the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta with a June 26-July 6 limited run. New Tuners is welcoming the Democrats to Chicago with a political revue, Newt Faces of '96, which opens July 10. New Tuners also will workshop three new musicals in its June 30-July 21 third annual Summer Festival of New Musicals.
Forever Plaid marked its 700th performance at the Royal George Cabaret June 12, making it the longest-running show in the 10-year history of the three-theatre Royal George Complex. The revue has grossed more than $3 million. The cast now includes David Gagnon, Paul Pement, Michael Flanigan, and sole original Plaid, Fred Goudy, under musical director Patrick Holland. The Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit is making a two-day stop at Court Theatre, June 28-29, with its acclaimed production of Crossing 8 Mile, a contemporary retelling of The Comedy of Errors. Meanwhile, Court artistic director Charles Newell recently staged Mozart's The Jewel Box for Chicago Opera Theatre in a well-recieved production.
New Looks at the Oldest Profession
Stratford-on-Guy Productions is headed to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with Martin and John, a one-man show based on the 1993 novel by Dale Peck, adapted and performed by Sean O'Neil under director Eileen Vorbach. Originally produced here in 1994, it has been revived for a June 17-July 23 run prior to Scotland. This extremely dark and explicit tale is a narrative of the life of AIDS-stricken John, an abused child turned hustler and porn star, who watches those dearest to him die before him. O'Neil is a comely and capable young actor, as comfortable with onstage nudity as with the image-rich and often graphic prose. With discreet direction from Vorbach, he gives a quietly commanding performance, easily slipping in and out of the various characters he portrays, ranging from his mother and father to a drag queen, without ever relying on exaggeration for effect.
But the material is almost ferociously self-loathing--a gay man's tale of dysfunction, depravity, disease, and destructive sex, unredeemed by a kindling of warmth or genuine expressions of love. Partly this is O'Neil's fault as adaptor: The Martin of the title is John's lover, but is so undeveloped as a character, and is introduced so late in the narrative that the relationship has little value. Also stinted is John's journey from small-town teenage hustler to porn star, an important part of the narrative which the audience picks up second hand as an easily missed passing piece of exposition. O'Neil could add another 10 minutes to his 75-minute adaptation to fill out these empty spots without harming the pace of the work.
And speaking of sex professionals, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (through Aug. 18) has recieved a sparkling production at Marriott's Lincolnshire Theatre with the tightest ensemble the company has assembled in some time. Directed and choreographed by Mark S. Hobee, the thin-of-story but number-rich tuner clips along. James Anthony provides impeccable attack and timing as cuss champion Sheriff Dodd, giving the character a sincere and rock-solid base, while Paula Scrofano charms with her "tough love" motherly Miss Mona. The Act One showstoppers, "Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin' " and "The Aggie Song," both do the trick, especially with Chicago favorite Felicia P. Fields as Jewel belting out "Lovin' " as an R&B wail. An energized and almost acrobatic Melvin P. Thorpe from James Fitzgerald, and a sweet rendition of "Doatsey Mae" by Catherine Lord highlight the supporting work. Michael Duff's excellent five-piece band really makes the string and guitar solos dotting the score sing.
A Farewell to Tad Currie
Finally, the entire Chicago theatre community extends its best wishes to Tad Currie as he retires (June 28) as executive director of the Central Region of Actors' Equity. His decade on the job has been one of unprecedented growth, notable for the cooperation between producers and Equity. Currie is universally admired as an honorable gentleman of high ideals. He has begun a new career as a vice president of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, and he will continue to be involved in A Season of Concern, the AIDS pastoral charity for the Chicago theatre industry which he co-found