Josephine Abady, controversial Tony- and Outer Circle-nommed legit director-producer and stage professor who helped revive Circle in the Square with numerous acclaimed plays, died of breast cancer in her Manhattan home on Saturday May 25. She was 52.
Richmond, Va., native got her bachelor’s degree from Syracuse U. and joined the theater faculty of Bennington College immediately out of Florida State grad school. She then headed Hampshire College’s theater department for three years before beginning her directorial career at the Berkshire Theater Festival, where her Off Broadway production of “The Boys Next Door” garnered her an Outer Critics Circle nom for best director.
Her next appointment was as artistic director of the Cleveland Playhouse, the nation’s largest region theater, where she fired the resident company and brought in nationally known actors, including Ed Asner and Madeline Kahn in a revival of “Born Yesterday” that went on to Broadway.
Unorthodox outings also entailed creating an international theater exchange, including a Russian-language version of “A Streetcar Named Desire” that she staged in Volgograd and then brought to Cleveland, where local auds listened to the English translation over headphones. She further made waves in England, where she criticized the royal family for their silence after the IRA bombed the theater she was using to present “The Philadelphia Story.”
After six years of friction with the Cleveland board of directors, she was fire but, based on her high-profile track record, was hired to run Broadway’s Circle in the Squre, which had been dark for two years. Abady staged a revival of “Bus Stop” starring Mary Louise Parker and Billy Crudup, for which she was nominated for a Tony for producing, and a revival of “The Rose Tattoo,” starring Mercedes Ruehl.
In the last years of Circle in the Square, before it filed for bankruptcy, she shared the artistic direction of that company with Theodore Mann, one of the company’s founders, and Mann named her as his successor.
In 1994, with a grant from the American Film Institute, she made “To Catch a Tiger,” inspired by her mother’s work as a civil rights activist. Screenplay was by Abady’s husband, Michael Krawitz, and starred her sister, actress Caroline Aaron, as her mother.
Additionally she co-produced a film version of “A Raisin in the Sun” with Esther Rolle and Danny Glover.
In 1980, she was appointed by President Carter to his Commission on Scholarship in the Arts, plus she continued in various academic capacities at numerous campuses.
The last six months of Abady’s life were among her most productive. She directed three productions back to back since her diagnosis, including a new version of “Abyssinia” at the Lyric Theater in Texas and the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Wit” in her hometown.
Besides her husband and sister, she is survived by a brother and numerous others.
A memorial is planned for Aug. 21 in Manhattan. Donations may be made to Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital for breast cancer research.