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Entertainment & Arts

Geffen Playhouse’s former artistic director files age discrimination lawsuit

Randall Arney, who served as artistic director of the Geffen Playhouse for 17 years.
Randall Arney was artistic director of the Geffen Playhouse for 17 years.
(Los Angeles Times)

Randall Arney, the former artistic director of the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles who was dismissed in February after 17 years at the theater, filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the Geffen of age and disability discrimination.

Arney, 61, also lists failure to prevent retaliation, libel and slander among the complaints in his suit. It came one day after the Geffen named Arney’s successor: Matt Shakman, a 41-year-old TV and film director whose credits include “Game of Thrones.”

When news of Arney’s departure first hit on Feb. 14, he wasn’t available for comment. A Geffen representative said at the time that the leadership change was prompted by the theater’s desire to ensure it was “well positioned for the future.”

The Geffen declined to comment on the lawsuit. Arney didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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Filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the suit names the Geffen and the theater board’s co-chairs, Pamela Henderson and Martha Robinson, as defendants.

According to the suit, Henderson told Arney on Feb. 13 that his contract, expiring in August, would not be renewed.

The lawsuit said Arney had been diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a condition causing partial facial paralysis, after experiencing stroke-like symptoms at work in September. According to the lawsuit, Arney informed his colleagues at the Geffen about the diagnosis “because he was concerned the Geffen would think he had suffered a stroke based on his symptoms.”

In the complaint, Arney cites his tenure at the Geffen as being an “exemplary, unblemished record of service” in which he created “an exciting, innovative, successful regional theater.” In 2015, the Geffen received 18 local Ovation Award nominations for the 2014-2015 season and won best production of a play (large theater).

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As artistic director, Arney guided the theater’s season lineup and directed numerous productions, including “Outside Mullingar,” “The Night Alive” and “Reasons to Be Pretty.”

Times critic Charles McNulty, who had written about the Geffen’s “erratic batting average,” praised Arney’s “no nonsense” directing of the 2013 production of “American Buffalo.” But McNulty criticized Arney for lack of leadership in the cancellation of “The Birthday Party” the following year. Two weeks before performances were to begin, director William Friedkin said in a Times interview that actor Steven Berkoff had been let go from the production and that a suitable replacement couldn’t be found in time.

“Normally, an artistic director would broker a détente in such a situation or make the decision to replace an actor while there was still time to do so,” McNulty wrote. “Where was Geffen artistic director Randall Arney during this turmoil?”

On the other hand, Arney’s 2015 staging of Conor McPherson’s play “The Night Alive” prompted McNulty to write that Arney “preserves the yarn-spinning pleasure of the work.” The director’s “gripping” production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” in 2006 made McNulty’s year-end top 10 list.

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin

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UPDATES:

10:05 a.m.: This article was updated, with additional information about Arney’s disability discrimination claim.

11:37 a.m.: This article was updated with additional information about Arney’s tenure at the Geffen.


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