San Jose Rep announces new artistic director

San Jose Repertory Theatre announced today that Rick Lombardo of Boston’s New Repertory Theatre will be the company’s next artistic director, succeeding the Rep’s long-time director, Timothy Near.

According to a press release, the six-month nationwide search landed on Lombardo for “his combination of artistic excellence, programming savvy and leadership abilities.”

“In Rick Lombardo we have found a proven leader who will complement the current team and help take San Jose Rep to an exciting new level in the community as well as on stage,” said Stan Anders, chair of the search committee and incoming board president. “We look forward to his energy and insight as we launch a new era for the theatre.”

For ten of his twelve years as artistic director at the New Repertory Theatre (NRT), Lombardo oversaw all artistic and administrative operations and presided over a quadrupling of the theatre’s budget, a successful capital campaign, a doubling of attendance from 2002-to 2007 and a 500 percent increase in contributed revenue. An award-winning director, Lombardo produced four world premieres at NRT and directed a wide range of plays including Ragtime, Sweeney Todd, King Lear, A Streetcar Named Desire, Waiting for Godot, Tartuffe, The Scarlet Letter and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Lombardo also was artistic director of The Players Guild in Canton, Ohio and was founding artistic director of the Stillwaters Theatre Company off-Broadway in New York. A National Merit Scholar and graduate of Georgetown, he received his MFA in directing from Boston University School for the Arts. He has taught at Fordham University and Farleigh Dickinson University. He has a strong commitment to diversity and developing education and outreach programs such as the successful “New Rep on Tour,” a school touring program funded by the NEA.

“I am honored to be named the next Artistic Director of San Jose Rep and to continue the high artistic tradition the Rep has established under the leadership of Timothy Near,” said Lombardo. “My work has always been to find the plays, stories and voices that have a powerful and lasting impact on an audience, and to use these plays as a way to begin a real engagement between community and artists around the important questions and ideas of our times. I’m very excited to begin planning my first season for Silicon Valley, and I’ll be spending as much time as I can at the Rep this fall to get the feel for my new home.”

Lombardo will begin the transition into his new position in the fall of 2008.

For information about the San Jose Rep season, visit

Review: `Uncle Vanya’

Continues through Aug. 31 at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda

Annie Purcell is Sonya and Dan Hiatt is Vanya in Cal Shakes’ beautiful, moving production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Photos by Kevin Berne


Beauty, boredom, brilliance imbue Cal Shakes’ Vanya

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Passion runs deep in Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, but until late in the game, that passion barely stirs the surface.

One of the fascinating things about Chekhov, and one of the great elements of the California Shakespeare Theater Vanya now running in Orinda, is that hardly anything or anyone can be judged in a simple way.

Vanya is essentially about two deeply lonely souls whose lives either have escaped them or are about to. Sonya is a plain young woman with a powerful mind and an even more powerful heart. She and her Uncle Vanya are stuck running a wheat farm so that they can support Sonya’s father, Alexander, an esteemed academic who’s not nearly the great man they think he is.

Seemingly resigned to their lives of toil and isolation, Sonya and Vanya harbor passions and hopes and plans of their own. For Sonya, it’s all about her love of the dashing, slightly gone-to-seed Dr. Astrov, a country doctor with forward-thinking ideas about the preservation of the earth. But the doctor’s cynicism (and alcoholism) prevent him from connecting with anyone decent. He only responds to beauty, which means he only responds to Yelena, the gorgeous young second wife of academic Alexander.

The doctor is bored and interesting. Yelena is bored and beautiful. It’s a lazy but potent combination, which is too bad for Vanya, who also pines for Yelena but for whom he’ll never be anything but a good friend.

If this sounds a little melodramatic, it isn’t, especially in Emily Mann’s crisp, clear adaptation directed by Timothy Near, the outgoing artistic director of San Jose Repertory Theatre making her Cal Shakes debut.

Mann and Near emphasize the comedy – there really are a lot of laughs, all of which come from character more than situation – only because the more we laugh, the more our hearts break, especially for Sonya, a young woman who deserves so much better than she gets.

Near adds some fussy directorial flourishes at the top of each act, but mostly she adheres to the complex simplicity of Chekhov’s characters as they coast through their days full of regret, misery, exhaustion, suffocation, idleness, old age, restlessness and failure, all the while chatting and getting on with the business of their days. There are some great musical moments – both with recorded folk music and muted trumpet in Jeff Mockus’ expert sound design and live guitar playing by Howard Swain as Waffles, a friend of the family’s.

Near’s production is filled with warmth, and the Cal Shakes stage is stunningly beautiful with Erik Flatmo’s rustic, raw wood set blends seamlessly with the golden Orinda hills behind the stage. York Kennedy’s lights make all that wood glow in rich golden tones, and Raquel Barreto’s costumes blend perfectly except for Yelena’s gowns, which are meant to stand out as sophisticated beauty amid rural earthiness.
Dan Hiatt gives Vanya some much needed levity, but when the character snaps, when he’s finally had enough, Hiatt connects with profound anger and desperation. Early on, Vanya gets a laugh with the line: “It’s a senseless, dirty business this living.” But by play’s end, nearly 2 ½ hours later, we believe him.

Vanya’s friendship with the doctor is strongly felt because Andy Murray is perfectly cast as Astrov, a man with some sexual fire still in him but who has given over to the pressures of his job and the futility of being an environmentalist in an industrial world.

Sarah Grace Wilson as Yelena has the requisite beauty, but she reveals much more under the surface and makes her character, who is stuck in a horrible marriage with an egomaniacal blowhard (James Carpenter as Alexander), one of the bright lights of the play.

But no light is brighter than Annie Purcell as Sonya. Purcell is so grounded, so real, it’s almost impossible to watch anyone else when she’s on stage. She listens with intensity, and even the most fleeting expression on her face can break your heart. And Sonya is a heartbreaking character to be sure – just watch her in the doctor’s thrall as he, oblivious to her adoration, degrades, demeans and destroys her without ever knowing it.

It’s a tribute to Chekhov first, and to everyone in this production next, that such a depressing play isn’t depressing. “It’s the world that’s insane for letting us live in it,” Vanya says. And he’s right. But like Vanya and Sonya, we go on and find a way to live in a sad, insane world, even if we never quite know why or how we do.

Cal Shakes’ Uncle Vanya continues through Aug. 31 at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, off the Shakespeare Festival/Gateway exit on Highway 24, one mile east of the Caldecott Tunnel. Tickets are $32-$62. There’s a free shuttle between the theater and the Orinda BART station. Call 510-548-9666 or visit

Dan Hiatt on Chekhov, regret and gunshots

Last summer, Dan Hiatt was in three California Shakespeare Theater shows, including The Triumph of Love (above, with Domenique Lozano). This summer he is playing the title character in Cal Shakes’ Uncle Vanya. Photo by Kevin Berne

Actors tend to love working on Chekhov plays. There aren’t many of them, but they’re juicy – rich in character, simple on the surface and utterly complex underneath.

Dan Hiatt, a familiar face to Bay Area theatergoers, has done two of Chekhov’s big three: The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull. Now he’s closing in on the third. He’s playing the title character in California Shakespeare Theater’s Uncle Vanya, which previews this week and opens on Saturday in Orinda.

Hiatt, taking a break from rehearsal in Berkeley, says he’ll always jump at the chance to do Chekhov.

“He puts human nature on the page more accurately than most other writers, it seems to me, and with such humor,” Hiatt says. “The plays are more than a century old, yet they’re still absolutely recognizable. The plays are a great kind of loving, humorous, tongue-in-cheek takes on what human nature is, what it is to live our lives. The other thing is I don’t think there’s a bad character, an unrewarding character in any of them. Even the smaller roles require so much.”

Playing Vanya, a man looking back on his life with great regret, Hiatt has been loving rehearsals, calling them a “joy…up to now.” Then he sort of hit an emotional wall and had to do some deep thinking about the character.

“It’s almost like maybe I’m even sort of looking back on the time when I was Vanya’s age – I’m maybe a few years older than he is – from the vantage point of having gone through what he’s going through,” Hiatt says. “You get through that, and you reach a place where you’re pretty comfortable and happy. I’m there, Vanya isn’t. Looking back on all this angst, it’s better to have been through it than to have to imagine it entirely. The advantage of being older is not having to go through it in life while you’re working on the role.”

Though successful and one of the most admired actors in the Bay Area, Hiatt says his phase of existential regret had to do with his life choices.

“I never married or had children,” he says. “That’s something I think helps to tether people to something. And then living a life on stage – wow, that was really insignificant. There’s nothing to show for it and I’m still struggling to make the rent. It’s the story of age. I think probably a lot of people at 3 a.m., no matter what their life situation, look back and say, `If only…'”

Some complain that nothing much happens in a Chekhov play, characters just sit around and yak, but Hiatt disagrees.

“We all sit around most of the time, yet we’re all wrestling with some life-changing thing everyday,” he says. “People are trying to work out their lives, dream about things not possible to them. That’s a tremendously active thing.”

Cal Shakes’ Vanya is directed by San Jose Repertory Theatre’s outgoing artistic director, Timothy Near, and uses an adaptation by Emily Mann that Hiatt describes as “active and muscular in language.”

“You really sense Vanya change over time in this script,” Hiatt says. “He grows much darker in the second act, so it’s maybe not as surprising when he runs off and grabs the pistol. Emily Mann has had some really great ideas here.”

To read Dan Hiatt’s thoughts on being a veteran Bay Area actor, visit my page.

Uncle Vanya begins previews Wednesday, Aug. 6, opens Saturday, Aug. 9 and continues through Aug. 31 at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, just off the Shakespeare Festival/Gateway exit on Highway 24, one mile east of the Caldecott Tunnel. There’s a free shuttle that runs between the theater and the Orinda BART station. Tickets are $32-$62. Call 510-548-9666 or visit for information.