Deconstructing Richard

Richard Hamburger transformed the Dallas Theater Center into a regional marvel, but as he faces a million dollar debt and a host of angry critics, is it curtains for his daring vision?

"That was a project of my wife, Melissa [Cooper, DTC artistic associate]," he says. "I had board members come to me and express disappointment, especially because the festival involved so much local talent. But we've done 10 such festivals in 10 years (they created the Little Festival of the Unexpected back in Portland) in addition to full seasons, and we're exhausted. Actually, the main reason is, we've had a child since we moved to Dallas. We'll probably bring the festival back, but reconfigure it for broader, more national appeal."

When asked point-blank whether she was hired to collar Hamburger's artistic ambitions, Love sits back in her seat and offers the first genuine laugh of a tense interview.

"People talk money vs. art, about the evil manager vs. the artist," she says. "But the truth, at least in our case, is more complicated. I think that because of my background I bring a more artistic perspective to my job, of understanding the creative process. In turn, Richard is more money-minded than other artistic directors I've met."

"I was on the search committee that approved Edith's appointment," Hamburger says. "Chemistry between myself and the managing director was a big issue, because nobody wanted a lot of fighting. Edith and I are the same age [48], and we started in theater at the same age [14]. Honestly, this is a professional marriage, a constant give-and-take. I think we respect each other, mainly because we agree on one thing: This is our budget."

If the current artistic director and managing director of Dallas Theater Center have an adversarial relationship, their rapport in front of the journalist is airtight. And last summer Hamburger announced he had signed a contract for five more years at DTC, at roughly the same time as Love's appointment was announced. If Hamburger secretly feels his choices are being compromised for economic concerns, he's agreed to weather four more seasons of it.

As far as scaling back the more experimental nature of some of his work, Hamburger admits to having gained some perspective during his tenure. "There are audiences out there who want to be challenged by a Sternheim Project, and there are audiences who enjoy a Having Our Say [Emily Mann's Broadway hit about a pair of 100-year-old African-American sisters, which DTC will stage as the last show of its current season]. A season should be balanced to please everybody. I enjoy both kinds of shows. And plus, now that I have a kid, I want to do more children's programming.

"Back during my first season, I chose A Doll's House, The Cherry Orchard, and A Streetcar Named Desire," he recalls. "And people complained that they were such safe, familiar plays. Well, they're saying the same thing about this season, with plays like An Ideal Husband and Long Day's Journey Into Night. But it's all how you look at the material. I mean, we're still dealing with Oscar Wilde and Eugene O'Neill, for God's sake."

Hamburger promises to make Long Day's Journey something more than everyone expects. And so far, his more predictable play selections have reflected an intriguingly contemporary political and social sensibility. The art of theater, after all, is doing more with less. But when talented artists are reduced to beggars, their imaginations wither in a particularly tragic way. Let's all pray Richard Hamburger doesn't die a pauper's death before our eyes.

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