Drabinsky brings ‘Island’ prod’n to Toronto

Theater entrepreneur refuses comment on charges

TORONTO — Garth Drabinsky, the embattled theater entrepreneur and co-founder of bankrupt theater company Livent Inc., has stepped back into the spotlight to announce he’s bringing the critically acclaimed South African play “The Island” to Toronto.

Under indictment and accused of fraud in the United States in the wake of financial irregularities at Livent, Drabinsky would not comment on the charges against him. “I’m here today for one reason and one reason alone,” he told reporters at a hastily organized press conference in Toronto on Tuesday, “to talk about my love for the theater, and this great work.”

He would not elaborate on where the money for his latest venture is coming from. “I’ve been very fortunate to have had a number of friends and splendid individuals who have made it possible to bring the play to Toronto,” he said. “It wasn’t complicated, and it happened quite quickly.”

Livent exit

Drabinsky was dismissed from Livent almost 18 months ago after a new management team, brought to Livent by Michael Ovitz, discovered financial inconsistencies that led to Livent’s legal insolvency. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil charges against Drabinsky and co-founder Myron Gottlieb, and the U.S. government is seeking to try the two in a criminal case. A C$225 million ($153 million) civil suit has also been filed by Livent in Canada, and Drabinsky is countersuing the company.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is investigating the matter, but no charge has been filed to date, and according to spokeswoman Michelle Paradis, they do not know if charges are likely ever to be filed.

Drabinsky said he wouldn’t classify his latest move as a comeback. “I’ve been involved in the varied faces of the arts for 25 years, and I expect to be involved for the next 25,” he said.

It’s not Drabinsky’s first reappearance after a fiscal crash and burn. Before his Livent incarnation, he headed up Cineplex Odeon, the movie theater company Drabinsky left in a fiscally challenged position in the late 1980s.

Name dropping

Drabinsky hoped the fact that the play is being presented “under the auspices of my name” would have a positive effect on the box office, adding that he “is not here to speculate” on how “recent history” might affect theatergoers’ enthusiasm for the play.

Written in secret by South African playwright Athol Fugard in collaboration with cast members John Kani and Winston Ntshona in 1973, “The Island,” set on the maximum security prison on Robben Island in South Africa, will retain Kani and Ntshona as its original cast. The play ran in London’s West End and on Broadway, where Kani and Ntshona won Tony Awards for best actor in 1975.

“The Island” was brought out again last year, with its original cast, at Bouffes du Nord in Paris, at the Stockholm Stadsteater and at the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain. Following its Toronto run, scheduled to open May 1, “The Island” will return to London in early 2002.

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