Galati’s Year? Not at the Box Office

What some theater critics have gleefully proclaimed the year of Frank Galati seems to be turning into a bad dream for the award-winning director, at least at the box office. The ink was barely dry on Tribune entertainment editor Richard Christiansen’s July 1 paean to Galati and his production of She Always Said, Pablo when the closing notices went up at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, where Pablo was to have played a five-week engagement. Conceived and directed by Galati (and first presented at the Goodman three years ago), the multimedia tribute to Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso closed last Sunday–two weeks earlier than it was supposed to–because of poor ticket sales. While Galati’s ego may survive the blow, the deficit-ridden Kennedy Center is facing a financial bloodbath paying off actors’ contracts for the show’s originally scheduled run. “I wish I could figure out this business,” said a dejected Drew Murphy, general manager of the Kennedy Center, shortly after the closing notices were posted.

It appears that Pablo was a colossal miscalculation on the part of the Kennedy Center, and also to some degree on the part of Goodman Theatre management, which decided to send the show to Washington, D.C. In a year when audiences seem more than ever to be spending their hardearned theater dollars on pure entertainment, Pablo and Galati’s other acclaimed production The Grapes of Wrath demand considerable mental application while offering precious little joyous uplift. And ticket-buying audiences have not been fooled by the mixed message of critics who heap praise on Galati’s work while sending out a warning about what’s in store. In his review of Pablo, drama critic David Richards of the Washington Post said: “Not since the days of Peter Sellars [a director noted for his difficult-to-fathom productions] has the Eisenhower Theater ventured out this far on a stylistic limb. For some that will be cause for jubilation. Others will be tempted to run as fast as they can in the other direction.” Clearly there was more running than jubilation.

Meanwhile, in New York, Galati’s Grapes continues to wage an uphill battle to attract audiences. Even with Tony Awards for best production and for Galati’s direction, the Steppenwolf adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel continues to hover ominously around the break-even mark, well below sellout status. For the week of June 25, the Grapes box-office gross dipped almost $15,000 from the previous week’s total. While the New York producers of Grapes are said to be committed to giving the show a chance to succeed, they aren’t likely to subsidize a costly production on Broadway for long, even a Tony Award winner. As for Galati, he says he is itching to tackle James Joyce’s knee-slapper Ulysses onstage. Anyone ready to invest straightaway in a Broadway production?

Film Fest to Feature Blacks

The 26th Chicago International Film Festival, scheduled to run October 12 through 25, will focus in part on “the new black cinema,” according to festival director Michael Kutza. “Black directors are getting a lot of attention now,” notes Kutza; he sees signs, he says, that their work is beginning to cross over and appeal to white audiences. Kutza is organizing a one-day conference on the new black cinema, expected to include several young black directors, including Spike Lee and brothers Warrington and Reggie Hudlin, producer and director respectively of this spring’s hit film House Party. Kutza just returned from Russia, where the Chicago film fest was honored for its 25th anniversary. Kutza screened several past festival hits, but he says the Russians saved their most fervent applause for White Nights, which stars Mikhail Baryshnikov as a dancer-defector who has to escape the Evil Empire all over again after a plane he’s on crashes in the Soviet Union.

League Director in Siberia

Speaking of the Soviet Union, Diane “From Russia With Love” Olmen, executive director of the League of Chicago Theaters, was on vacation last week in that country with which she has forged such close and loving ties on behalf of Chicago’s theater industry. Sources say Olmen opted to spend her own money and vacation time organizing an August environmental conference and arts festival in Siberia, part of the League’s pact with its Russian counterparts. Though she has visited the Soviet Union several times in recent years on League business, Olmen is expected to be spending considerably less time there since the League board of directors recently decided to set up new guidelines for its executive director.

Opera Theater Succeeds With Carousel, Plans Another Go-Round

Chicago Opera Theater wound up doing OK on its ambitious operatic revival of the complete Rodgers and Hammerstein Carousel. Ten performances at the Shubert Theatre grossed approximately $460,000. With a $100,000 grant from Sara Lee factored in, Opera Theater is safely in the black on its $500,000 production. Opera Theater executives say they would like to do another musical revival with operatic voices, perhaps as early as next year, and they have made overtures to Shubert Theatre management about once again using the seldom-lighted theater.

Singer Turns Saloon Keeper

After decades of meticulously researching the music-club business from the viewpoint of customer as well as performer, Larry Rand has finally become a proprietor, opening (with partner Rich Markow) the Kartoon Klub at 4015 N. Damen “The club tends to reinvent itself every week when the act changes,” says Rand, but generally it spotlights acoustic music and various forms of humor, the two elements that have characterized Rand’s and Markow’s own performing careers. Rand hopes the eclectic approach will help his club survive at a time when places like Orphans are closing their doors. He also is booking acts for five nights rather than the more common one or two. “This gives acts a chance to get warmed up before the weekend crowds arrive.” This weekend the entertainment is being provided by the owners and staff, including Markow and Rand, Jim Desmond and Bill Pekoc, and Jamie Swise. Says Rand, “It’s our way of showing that this is a club created by musicians for musicians.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kevin Horan.