Larry Stark's THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide

The Theater Mirror Welcomes New Rep

As Our Newest Contributor Patron

"In its 12 short years," says Rick Lombardo, "New Repertory Theatre has grown exponentially, because of its strong relationship to the community. One of my goals is for this company to serve a need with a certain kind of literature --- new plays and classics which are actor-centered, where the work of the ensemble, the world of the actor, and voice of the playwright are premier."

While there is much buzz about the theater boom taking place in downtown Boston, something exciting is also happening to the west in Newton. The small professional playhouse, New Repertory Theatre, under the new leadership of Lombardo, is growing and maturing into a strong regional player. It is a story that illustrates the vitality of regional theater.

By New England standards, New Repertory Theatre is a newcomer. It began in 1984 around the kitchen table of the prime mover, Larry Lane. Leading a band of Boston-based theater artists (Richard Fairbanks, Donna Glick, Kathryn Lubar, and Nora Singer) and with only $1,000. Lane produced New Repertory Theatre's first play, DESPERATE LOVE: THREE ONE-ACT PLAYS, at the Newton Arts Center. No one was paid, and the first subscription drive netted only 50. When he left his secure teaching job at MIT to pursue theater full time, many thought Lane was making a quixotic error.

"New Rep's" first ten years were spent putting down roots and building a loyal local following. Its goals were to explore scripts in depth, offer quality productions of challenging plays, and build a permanent professional company in Newton. Under Lane's guidance, the company grew in artistic stature and earned the support of local businesses, the Boston theater community, and its 3,000-plus subscribers. Contributors, subscribers, and volunteers are the bedrock of the theater's current growth and success.

The company continued to perform at the Newton Arts Center until 1989, when it moved to a 170-seat space at the Newton Highlands Congregational Church. The establishment of a permanent home by so young a company bears witness to the New Rep's success. Community recognition has also grown. New Repertory was named Boston's "Best Little Theatre" byBOSTON MAGAZINE in 1989, won a "Creative Excellence" citation from the New England Theatre Conference in 1992, was dubbed Boston's "Best Emerging Theatre" by BOSTON MAGAZINE in 1993, and earned the #1 Choice Readers' Award for a professional theater by theWEEKLY TAB in 1995.

A greater test of the organization's health, however, is how well it handled the retirement of its founder. How many wonderful companies or movements --- or nations for that matter --- have withered on the vine after the founder left? When Lane decided to pursue his writing and teaching, he spent much time considering who would shepherd the company into its second decade. He assisted in a search that considered a field of 150 candidates and chose Rick Lombardo.

Former Artistic Director of the Players Guild in Canton, Ohio, Rick directed many acclaimed productions there, including DEATH OF A SALESMAN, HAMLET, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, and EVITA. His most recent project was the premiere of a new American opera, MOBY DICK. He was the Founding Artistic Director of the Stillwaters Theatre Company in New York, which produced the new work MIDSUMMER. Industry publication THEATRE WEEK wrote that it contained "the finest acting in New York." He is a graduate of the MFA Directing program at the Boston University School for the Arts. "New Repertory Theatre's mission has always been to present theater that is vital and essential, that makes us confront ourselves and our world by the most immediate means possible --- live performance," says Lombardo about New Rep's continuing mission.

He has already shown that he is not resting on New Repertory Theatre's past laurels, but is energetically taking the company to the next level of regional theater. He turned up the heat in his first year's schedule by making three of five programs premieres, including the much coveted Boston premiere of AR Gurney's crowd-pleasing SYLVIA. Next year, four of five presentations will be premieres. He earned personal praise for his directorial debut of Phyllis Nagy's provocative interpretation of THE SCARLET LETTER.

In addition to its performance schedule, New Repertory Theatre is also expanding its community outreach programs. It now offers classes to the general public in diverse areas: acting, improvisation, audition technique. It sets aside performances for school groups at significantly reduced rates. These events are accompanied by study materials provided to teachers in advance; group discussions with company members following performances; and, where posible, in-school visits by performers, directors, or designers. ASL interpretation accompanies many performances. Other outreach programs serve university students, the elderly, and groups with special needs.

By the conclusion of its 1996-'97 season, New Repertory Theatre will have produced over 60 plays by Shaw, Moliere, Sam Shepard, August Wilson, AR Gurney, David Mamet, and Arthur Miller, as well as many up-and-coming authors. Looking ahead to the 1997-'98 season, Lombardo will fulfill his goal of bringing new work to Boston-area audiences with an exciting line-up of four Boston premieres including:GIFTS OF THE MAGI, a touching holiday musical and long hit Off-Broadway; VALLEY SONG, South African playwright Athol Fugard's poetically told story of an old farmer's love for his granddaughter and her dreams of leaving home to pursue a singing career in Johannesburg; and JACK AND JILL, Jane Martin's humorous look at modern romance. Rounding out the season will be Eugene O'Neill's powerful and personal play A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN.

As New Repertory Theatre grows, Lane and Lombardo's success is shown in the fact that the company's strength does not reside solely in visible elements like an edifice of stone or a single artist, but in the family of people who constitute its organization and supporters. Its artistic achievements and social contributions make New Repertory Theatre a fine example of the valuable role that regional theater plays in New England communities.

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