The world premiere of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Holmes and Watson, which opened at the Herberger this past weekend, is the final production of its 50th anniversary season. It’s also the last play David Ira Goldstein has directed for the company as its artistic director. He’ll return next year to helm The Diary of Anne Frank, but after 25 years is stepping down from his post to pursue directing assignments with other companies, here and elsewhere.
The Hatcher play is a smartly written mystery swaddled in jest, neatly acted on a vast set by designer John Ezell. Its posh production offers video trickery that includes a front-projected image of an oncoming train, a bit met with applause on opening night.
Goldstein changed the tenor of the company this past quarter-century. His bigger-picture approach kept an eye on theater trends beyond Manhattan and the West Coast. When he joined the company, it had only ever produced a single new play, and there was precious little in the way of Latino and black plays being offered. Women playwrights, Goldstein noticed, were under-represented. ATC has gone on to present work by Anna Deavere Smith, Regina Taylor, and Lorraine Hansberry. The company established a National Latino Playwriting Award. They’ve produced plays by August Wilson.
After nearly shuttering last year, the company has eliminated its past debt, and Goldstein reports that its finances “are healthier than they’ve been in recent years.”
There are still challenges. Committed to producing more Latino work, ATC saw its lowest numbers this season for Ruben Gonzalez’s La Esquinita, USA. Goldstein is confident that the incoming artistic director, David Ivers, will build a bridge between ATC and Latino audiences. Ivers is the former artistic director of Utah Shakespeare Festival, where he launched a new play development program. He starts work on July 1, and will oversee a season selected by Goldstein that includes Neil Simon’s Chapter Two directed by Simon’s ex-wife Marsha Mason (about whom the play was written) and Marisela Treviño Orta’s The River Bride, which won ATC’s Latino Playwriting Award in 2013.
And what does Goldstein say to the oft-heard complaint that the state theater company hires so few local actors? “We hire more local talent than people say we do,” he told me last week. “But we’re an Equity theater, which means we have to hire 11 Equity members before we can hire one non-union person. And there just aren’t that many Equity members living here.”
Often, when local actors have been offered roles in ATC productions, they’ve had to decline, Goldstein reports. “You’re going to be out of town for seven weeks if you’re in one of our plays. We rehearse in Tucson, and perform there for three weeks before coming to Phoenix. Many actors can’t take that much time off from their day jobs.”
If you nudge him a little, Goldstein will talk about his triumphs. He’s thrilled to have worked with author Khaled Hosseini on Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of The Kite Runner. He thought his Midsummer Night’s Dream was pretty good. He believes the company’s productions of H.M.S. Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance convinced us that Gilbert and Sullivan isn’t just for civic light opera audiences.
He hasn’t forgotten the low points, though. Goldstein recalls an unusually bad production of a not-very-good play (he won’t say which one) of several years ago. “At intermission, I overheard a patron saying, ‘Well, this is a two-hour root canal with a break in the middle.’”
Goldstein lets out a sigh. “I hope I haven’t been responsible for too many theatrical root canals these past many years.”
He has not. Those of us who’ve admired his hard work will miss him.
Arizona Theatre Company’s Holmes and Watson plays at Herberger Theater Center through May 28.