The opening of Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s production of the Tony Award winning play “Red” is also the closing of one of the great chapters in the Rep’s illustrious and artistic history.
Les Waters, a brilliant and important theatrical mind with an eight-year run as associate artistic director for the Rep, has made the decision to leave the friendly confines of Berkeley for a new and exciting opportunity. Waters has taken the top post as artistic director of the famed Actors Theatre of Louisville, and will not waste any time diving headfirst into his new digs. A day after opening his final production of “Red,” Waters will return to Louisville to continue working on the 36th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays. The festival’s history includes numerous important theatrical works such as Pulitzer Prize winners “Crimes of the Heart”(Beth Henley), “The Gin Game”(D.L. Coburn) and even more Pulitzer finalists by playwrights such as John Patrick Shanley, Jose Rivera and Tony Kushner.
His final play at the Rep is metaphoric in many ways. The two-person play, based on the life and work of Russian-American artist Mark Rothko, is a fierce of examination of how art is made and what its uses are intended for.
“I think it’s a great play about a particularly interesting period in history,” said Waters. “It’s all about the thrills and perils of making art.”
With Waters making his art at Berkeley Rep for the past eight years, and the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s reputation as a new play haven, he is heading right where he needs to be, with big plans to continue utilizing skills he honed while at the Rep.
“(Actor’s Theatre) is a theatre that I have a lot of fondness and admiration for, and I’m excited to learn about a new community, I relish it,” said Waters. “I think it’s a challenging and exciting new opportunity.
“All of my work in the field really, and in my career, is based on doing new works. It’s been great forging relationships with designers and actors new to the Bay Area.”
Waters was at a loss to name just one of his great memories during his Bay Area tenure. In a career filled with accolades near and far, his achievements include an Obie Award in 2002 for his production of Charles Mee’s “Big Love,” which was coincidentally staged at the same festival he is now taking over. He has also received numerous San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards, and a mention in Time magazine for one of the top 10 plays of 2007, the Sarah Ruhl masterpiece “In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play),” which became his Broadway debut.
To be sure, Waters’ accomplishments and collaborations are vast, but a few of those partnerships spawned some critical artistic moments and memories. Waters said he is especially proud of his work with playwrights Ruhl and Martin McDonagh. In addition to “In the Next Room,” Waters also directed Ruhl’s play “Euridice” in Berkeley in 2004, which then moved to Yale Rep and then to New York City. And with McDonagh, he earned further critical raves with his direction of the 2007 piece “The Pillowman,” as well as the hilarious, irreverent bloodbath “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” in 2009.
Waters came to the Bay Area with a desire to continue shaping new, important plays, and to that end, he feels Berkeley Rep gave him a venue to be successful.
“I came (to the Rep) with a reputation of doing new work, and I think I achieved that,” said Waters. “I think if I worked in a bookstore and needed a book to read, I would probably look at what’s just been published. The fact that people are analyzing the world we live in now is very exciting to me.”
Even though he is leaving Berkeley Rep, he is certainly not saying goodbye. His daughter, a high school junior, and his wife, set designer Annie Smart, who is another of his artistic collaborators, will be staying in the Bay Area for the short term. And Waters is hopeful that he and Rep artistic director Tony Taccone can continue creating theatre with each other in the future.
“We’ve had conversations, and I would like if I had a continued relationship with the Rep, that would be great,” said Waters. “Collaborations are always good, and I would hope at some time in the future, we could have a co-production between the Rep and the Actors Theatre of Louisville.”
While Waters moves on to the next act in his life, Berkeley Rep is firmly etched in him.
“I think I’ve grown here, and I’ve worked with extraordinary people across the board,” said Waters. “At the Rep, I’ve had a theatre that championed my work, and that’s what I needed.”
EXAMINE IT FOR YOURSELF
Berkeley Repertory Theatre presents “Red”
Written by John Logan
Directed by Les Waters
Through April 29th
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Tickets range from $17 – $64
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
2025 Addison St, Berkeley CA 94704
For tickets, call (510) 647-2949 or visit Berkeley Rep’s official website.
David is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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