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Eustis to head Public Theater

High-profile Wolfe said to be tough act to follow

The Public Theater has appointed Oskar Eustis to replace George C. Wolfe as producer of the nonprofit theater.

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 has been artistic director of Trinity Rep in Providence, R.I. since 1994, and he comes to the Public job with plenty of administrative and creative chops.

Prior to 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 the Taper in 1992.

In his various legit posts, Eustis has championed multiculturalism, and is expected to continue the Public’s long-held tradition in that endeavor. World premieres Eustis has directed include Philip Kan Gotanda’s “Day Standing on Its Head” at MTC; David Henry Hwang’s “Bondage,” Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Devotees in the Garden of Love” at Actors Theater of Louisville; and Eduardo Machado’s “Floating Islands” at Mark Taper Forum.

In Gotham, Eustis’s most recent directorial assignment was the Off Broadway musical “Thunder Knockin’ at the Door,” which had a short run Off Broadway in 2002.

For all his kudos, Eustis’s predecessor at the Public was not immune to such disappointments. Two Wolfe-helmed failures, “On the Town” and “The Wild Party,” forced the Public into financial straits.

Eustis is only the fourth person to hold the top spot at the Public. Although the number of productions staged at the theater has diminished in recent seasons, the high-profile Wolfe will be a tough act to follow.

As an artistic director at another nonprofit put it, “It’s like when JoAnne Akalaitis replaced Joe Papp. You want to be the person who replaces the person who replaced Papp.”

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