After four months, the rumors have finally stopped flying. The Board of Trustees of the Magic Theatre has finally appointed a new artistic director in the shape of Loretta Greco.
Greco takes over from Chris Smith, who is leaving the venerable 41-year-old San Francisco company this season after just five years as artistic director.
I am personally very sad to see Smith go. He has worked with indefatigable energy, generosity of spirit, and good humor to prop up the Magic’s slightly saggy reputation as a national landmark for new plays. It’s been tough going, to say the least.
On one hand, Smith has been instrumental in nurturing the careers of such up-and-coming playwrights as Betty Shamieh and Mat Smart, created a welcoming home for new work by established names like Rebecca Gilman and Josh Kornbluth, and pushed through the installation of the Magic Cafe — a great space to hear live music, check out production-inspired fine art, and discuss plays over a pre- or post-show drink. On the other hand, high-profile world premieres such as David Mamet’s Faust (which the author directed himself in 2003) and last fall’s staging of Bill Pullman’s Expedition 6 were artistic misfires, despite breaking box-office records. Commendable efforts to lure younger audiences to balance the theater’s maturing core clientele, such as offering discounts to under-30s, have so far done little to lower the audience’s median age. Meanwhile, recent season programs featuring a baffling assortment of mostly pedestrian new plays and turns by decaying celebrities like Joan Rivers and Marlo Thomas have undermined the company’s mission as a producer of “hot cool new plays.”
Still, the new appointment looks promising. I’ve admired several of Greco’s recent Bay Area productions. Her no-nonsense takes on David Harrower’s Blackbird and Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow at the American Conservatory Theatre have been slick and spunky. She also managed to make relatively compelling theatre out of Courtney Baron’s flaccid domestic drama Morbidity & Mortality at The Magic a couple of seasons ago. Greco comes to her new job with producing experience as the Producing Artistic Director of Women’s Project in NYC and as Associate Director and Staff Producer of McCarter Theatre, so it looks like she has some clue about the programming and management side of things.
The next few months should be interesting ones for Bay Area theatre. I’m also keen to see what Smith goes on to do next as a freelance gun for hire.