He oversaw the transformation of the Laguna Playhouse from a community theater to a professional showplace and guided its fortunes for 17 years, but what Richard Stein really wanted to do was direct.
Not that he didn’t, and quite impressively on a number of occasions, but Stein’s official title at the playhouse was executive director, and his administrative duties left him precious little time to concentrate on creative endeavors. So, he announced last week that he’s leaving the playhouse to pursue artistic projects.
Rick Stein pulled into Laguna Beach in March 1990, just as the old Laguna Playhouse was shifting from a high-level nonprofessional theater into a full-on Equity operation.
The following year, Andrew Barnicle signed on as artistic director, and the pair have been working in tandem ever since.
“Rick leaves behind a great legacy,” Barnicle said. “He’ll be missed.”
During his tenure, Stein put his directorial stamp on many shows, among them world, American and West Coast premieres. His production of Jon Marans’ “Jumping for Joy” was the first ever, as was his staging of David Drummond’s “The Labors of Hercules.”
American premieres mounted by Stein during his tenure included Michael Weller’s “What the Night is For,” Bryony Lavery’s “Last Easter,” Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays With Morrie” and Neil LaBute’s “The Shape of Things.”
His staging of Richard Dresser’s “Gun-Shy” was the first in Southern California.
Most recently, Stein directed “The Master of the House,” a dark comedy by Israeli playwright Schmuel Hasfari, the first production in America of the play voted best in Israel for 2003.
Stein noted Hasfari’s view that “the humor, the irony, helps people deal better with their hidden fears” and how it “uncovers and exposes fears and anxieties in people’s minds on several levels.”
This column’s review noted that “Hasfari has created both a comedy bordering on the farcical and a sobering drama rooted in tragedy with this lengthy exercise, ably directed by Richard Stein.”
The two best examples of Stein’s directorial acumen, however, from this column’s standpoint, were the playhouse’s 2004 productions of “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “What the Night is For.”
With “Morrie,” we wrote, “Director Richard Stein and his superior two-character cast give this richly flavored account the style and texture required for live performance.”
On “Night,” our comment was “Director Richard Stein has tempered this two-character production with a number of variables, the most important being the once and future lovers’ tempo retarding their reunion.”
As Stein explained, “I have longed to spend more time on the artistic side of theater, and that’s difficult to do while meeting the demands of being an executive director.”
He had particular praise for Barnicle and the playhouse’s trustees and staff.
Rick Stein will shift gears from administrative to artistic in the future, but he leaves behind an impressive legacy on the stage of the Laguna Playhouse.