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Eustis goes Public as Wolfe’s replacement

Will start part-time in January while seeing out season at Trinity Rep

Oskar Eustis, artistic director of Trinity Rep in Providence, R.I., has been named to replace George C. Wolfe in the top slot at Gotham’s not-for-profit Public Theater. Wolfe’s title is producer. Eustis’ will be artistic director.

Announcement had been expected shortly after the presidential election, but when the appointment did not materialize then, speculation turned to possible snafus in negotiations between Eustis and the theater. Director Doug Hughes had been mentioned to replace Wolfe, but took himself out of the running weeks ago.

Eustis will take over at the Public part time Jan. 15 — with Wolfe continuing at the Public in a position to be determined — through the conclusion of the 2004-05 season at Trinity Rep; he’ll then go full time in New York. He will maintain a role with Brown University for the next few years, he says, to continue the work he began in establishing an educational consortium with Providence colleges and the Rep.

In fact, Eustis sees the Public connecting to schools in New York in the same way, particularly with New York University where he will become a full-time professor in the dramatic writing program at NYU’s Tisch School, effective next fall.

“This to me is like throwing catnip to a cat,” he says of the chance to work with young writers. “It’s as exciting as it gets.”

He says he wants to establish the theater as a welcoming home for young artists, and sees the Public’s role as “doing a lot of things. The quantity of activity historically mark the great and generous institutions.”

“Though it’s premature to talk about specifics, what I can say is that the core mission of the Public will be to create some of the best cutting-edge, transformative work that will engage in the life of a society.”

Eustis, a.d. of Trinity Rep since 1994, comes to the Public job with plenty of administrative and creative chops.

Before joining Trinity, he had been artistic director at San Francisco’s Eureka Theater, where he co-wrote the NEA grant that commissioned Tony Kushner to write “Angels in America.” Eustis directed early workshops of the epic piece and staged its world premiere at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum in 1992.

In his various legit posts, Eustis has championed multiculturalism, and he’s expected to continue the Public’s long-held tradition in that area.

“To use Mormon imagery,” says Eustis, with a wink to his work on “Angels in America,” “I see myself more as Brigham Young rather than Joseph Smith: that is, a person following after a charismatic founder — or in the case of the Public, a couple of them — and then building on the institution.

“I’m not the flashiest artist in the world,” he adds, “but I can build things and structures over the long haul to allow the work by other artists, and I think that’s the definition of a dramaturge and a producer: Create a platform to bring out the best in other people’s vision.”

Eustis has directed world preems of plays by Philip Kan Gotanda, David Henry Hwang, Suzan-Lori Parks and Eduardo Machado.

His most recent helming gig in Gotham was the Off Broadway musical “Thunder Knockin’ at the Door,” which had a short run Off Broadway in 2002.

Eustis says he will direct at the Public, though not in the immediate future.

However, New York could see a show Eustis helped develop and directed at Trinity. Rinne Groff’s “The Ruby Sunrise,” which ran at Trinity in May, has a commercial producer attached to it and is expected in New York “within the next 12 months,” says Eustis. He did not say if the Public will have a role in the production.

At Trinity Rep, associate artistic director Amanda Dehnert has been named acting artistic director. Trinity’s managing director is Edgar Dobie.

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