Have you seen this?
I don't know any details--
This is a major loss. Helping companies with artistic integrity survive was what we pledged ourselves to. We've failed.
Tonight's performance of ''Talking to Terrorists" will mark the end
of what seemed like a great relationship. Over the past 14 years the
Sugan Theatre Company, specializing in contemporary Irish and Celtic
plays, has become one of the most interesting and important companies
in Boston, while the Boston Center for the Arts has gone from more or
less a fringe operation to a symbol of the Boston theater community's
The Sugan is one of the original resident companies at the BCA, which gives it certain scheduling priorities and marketing advantages. But Sugan's decision to leave the BCA after the ''Terrorists" run -- without having found another home -- shows that it's still a struggle for small theater companies to make a go of it in Boston.
What does it say that the Sugan, one of this city's strongest small or midsize groups, might not be producing anything for the next year or two? The Sugan does, in fact, need to reorganize and spend more time on long-term fund-raising, which is what artistic director Carmel O'Reilly and her husband, managing director Peter O'Reilly, have said was their main reason for taking time off. (There might be productions while that is happening; there might not.)
Carmel O'Reilly is the company's only paid staffer, so when you consider all its artistic successes over the past decade or so -- from Conor McPherson's ''St. Nicholas" and Martin McDonagh's ''The Lonesome West" to any number of recent productions -- it is really amazing how far it has come. After all, this is a company that can hold its own artistically with bigger-staffed counterparts such as the Lyric Stage Company of Boston and the New Repertory Theatre -- which makes its departure, even if temporary, all the more troubling.
''We have been on the treadmill season after season," said Peter O'Reilly. ''When you're doing that, it makes it hard to think of the bigger picture. . . . We will be very careful about not rushing into something. We want to think more long-term at this stage."
But why not a sabbatical instead of a divorce? Lisa Giuffre, chief operating officer for the BCA, says the parting was amicable and the door is open for a return. O'Reilly confirms that it was amicable but is circumspect or silent about almost everything else involved with the parting, and her silence has the theater community speculating about whether the BCA did enough to keep Sugan.
Harvard theater professor Robert Scanlan, who directed the company's ''Women on the Verge of HRT" at the BCA this season, says the departure points to the city's lack of support for the arts in general and the BCA's lack of support for the Sugan specifically. ''It was foolish for them not to be a lot more accommodating given the success of the Sugan," Scanlan complains. ''They should have been doing everything in their power to treat [Sugan] like the centerpiece of their mission."
Giuffre counters that she and others asked Sugan what the BCA could do to keep the company there: ''We asked them that very question, and the response was that there was nothing that the BCA could have done. Sugan indicated that it didn't have anything to do with us, but where they are as a company."
O'Reilly's responses are more cryptic. Did the move have anything to do with the BCA? ''I don't think I want to comment." Could the BCA have done more? ''Not at this point."
Others in the theater community, who didn't want to be quoted, gripe that resident companies at the BCA are forced to spend too much time on outreach programs; communication isn't great between the BCA and the companies, some say, while others wish for more overall programming vision.
In fairness, the BCA seems to work well for two other resident companies, SpeakEasy Stage Company and Theater Offensive. SpeakEasy has found a real home in the Roberts Theatre, one of the two new spaces within the Calderwood Pavilion. Its programming meshes nicely with that of the Huntington Theatre Company, which runs the Wimberly Theatre, the larger space at the Calderwood. Theater Offensive has just opened its first production at the Calderwood, ''Christine Jorgensen Reveals."
The Sugan's aesthetic tends to be darker. Its work has won critical accolades, but recent pieces like Tom Murphy's ''The Sanctuary Lamp," about three lost souls finding one another in a church, and Gregory Burke's ''Gagarin Way," a bloody (albeit humorous) contemplation of terror, were not huge crowd pleasers. The Sugan has also seen the work of marquee writers it has championed, like McDonagh and McPherson, migrate to the larger New Repertory Theatre, which has staged McPherson's ''The Weir" and McDonagh's ''A Skull in Connemara." McDonagh's latest Broadway sensation, ''The Pillowman," opens New Rep's next season.
So whither the Sugan? Being nomads for a period needn't be the end of the world. The Actors' Shakespeare Project has made it work. And whither the BCA? Giuffre has said that it wants to take its time before granting another residency. Boston Theatre Works would seem to be a logical choice, particularly after its excellent production there of ''Othello" this season. The BCA might also consider holding more slots at the Roberts for visiting companies, which often complain that there's no place to bring acclaimed productions to Boston.
The lesson, though, is that neither audiences nor the theater community should take anything for granted in the arts. It's still a struggle, even for a company as good as Sugan.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company