Pappas in Pittsburgh
David Finkle talks with veteran director Ted Pappas about plans for his first season as artistic director of Pittsburgh Public Theater.
The season kicks off on September 28 with the George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's You Can't Take It With You, which Pappas will direct. The comedy will be followed by Margaret Edson's Wit, to be directed by 27-year-old Ethan McSweeney; A Grand Night for Singing, Walter Bobbie's revue of Rodgers & Hammerstein songs, to be directed by Debra Dickinson; the Alan Ayckbourn/Andrew Lloyd Webber musical By Jeeves, adapted from P.G. Wodehouse's novels and directed by Ayckbourn himself; Velina Hasu Houston's Tea, which is about five Japanese war brides, to be directed by Pamela Berlin; Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which Pappas will direct; and Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, directed by outgoing artistic director Edward Gilbert.
In a telephone interview, Pappas talked about the thinking that went into shaping his initial slate at PPT. He also went into some detail about its specifics, stressing (no surprise) the By Jeeves deal and also noting that he wanted to keep the departing Gilbert aboard for Copenhagen "to afford [him] the luxury of directing a play without the responsibility of producing it as well."
Stressing the season's breadth, Pappas--who has guest-directed seven of PPT's most successful productions over the last seven years--said, "I'm not producing on a theory; I want to see people in a theater enjoying themselves. I'm not looking to rethink pieces so much as to produce them full out. One of the reasons I took the job was that I wanted to produce drama and comedy on a large scale, and [the board of directors] found my enthusiasm in that regard very attractive." By the way, Pappas selected the Rodgers & Hammerstein revue as an add-on to the regular subscription series because he wanted something to fill the usually dark Christmas holiday slot and to reinforce his goal of making the O'Reilly venue "a destination for families."
Pappas says that he will be looking around for a nearby space in which to present newer and more experimental works. In planning the upcoming season, he is adhering to a policy of choosing directors first and having them tag the plays they want to helm. He's aware that this is an unorthodox approach, but says of directors that "their passion is invaluable." He went on to note that "powerful directors seem to have interesting theatrical families they can introduce." Cognizant of just how potent a theatrical family he's adopted in By Jeeves, he commented: "What I think is wonderful is that Ayckbourn brings out the charm of Lloyd Webber's composing and Lloyd Webber brings out the musicality of Ayckbourn's writing. Quite honestly, the goal is for the PPT product to make the transfer to Broadway in 2001." (Over the past few years By Jeeves has had runs at the Goodspeed Opera House and in London's West End.)
Tea appealed to Pappas, he says, partly because Pittsburgh is a city founded and populated by immigrants; he feels that the play "says a lot about loneliness and alienation and the flashes of hope which all immigrants experience." He is aware that the inclusion in the season of Copenhagen, which is about to receive a Broadway production, could be a chancy; if the three-character think-piece about nuclear fission and uncertainty is still running in New York when the spring of 2001 rolls around, the PPT staging will be delayed. As for Romeo and Juliet, Pappas says: "The test of any great company is the classics. I want to produce a season that challenges the company, the space--and, quite frankly, me."