Josephine Abady has been ousted as artistic director of the Cleveland Play House. In an abrupt move that shocked staffers Monday, the executive committee of the board of trustees voted not to renew Abady’s contract, which expires at the end of this season. She has helmed the long-established regional house since January 1988.
Roger Danforth, the playhouse’s literary manager for six years, has been appointed interim a.d. Danforth is now responsible for selecting next year’s season and is expected to be a candidate for the permanent position.
“Before Christmas I was told by the board that they planned to renew my contract,” Abady said. “Now it seems my reward for returning the institution to national prominence is to be asked to leave. They just told me that they didn’t want me around anymore. I’m overwhelmed at their lack of civility.”
Abady has had an assertive but undeniably impressive profile since her arrival in Cleveland. The first play she directed, “Born Yesterday,” starring Madeline Kahn and Ed Asner, toured widely and had a six-month Broadway run. The theater also produced 23 world and American premieres — including new writing by Alan Ayckbourn, J.P. Miller and Wendy Kesselman, as well as “The Cemetery Club,” which moved to Broadway and later became a film.
Abady also forged innnovative exchanges with the Experimental Theater of Volgograd, Russia, and the Slovak National Theater. She was also an astute fund raiser, bringing in grant monies from American Express, AT&T and the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest fund, used for African-American audience development.
Board president Bob Blattner, a local attorney, would say only that “Josephine Abady had accomplished her goals,” and the committee felt “it was now appropriate to move on to another artistic director.”
And although four of the last six years saw balanced budgets, the Play House ran up a $ 142,000 deficit last year, bringing its total debt to $ 591,000. Although this level of indebtedness is hardly unusual for large regional theaters, some committee members apparently felt that Abady was insufficiently willing to please the tastes of subscribers.