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La Jolla Playhouse Names Michael Greif Director : Theater: Board president cites the 'savvy business acumen' of Des McAnuff's 34-year-old replacement.

March 08, 1994|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Michael Greif will become the second artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse since it reopened in 1983, replacing Des McAnuff.

Greif, 34, currently a free-lance director, will assume the post next fall. He is known to local audiences for staging "What the Butler Saw" in the 1992 La Jolla season. He also co-directed "The Three Cuckolds" in 1986 and is scheduled to direct Neal Bell's new adaptation of Zola's "Therese Raquin," opening July 10.

After paying tribute to McAnuff's ability to attract talent to La Jolla, Greif (rhymes with life ) said Monday that he will make "slightly different choices of who those artists are." But he declined to be specific other than to refer to those with whom he has worked in the past.

Among those are "Angels in America" writer Tony Kushner, whose first produced play, "A Bright Room Called Day," was directed by Greif at the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1990.

Greif was one of three artistic associates picked by the festival's founder, Joseph Papp, to program a mini-season of plays at the festival in 1990. Greif staged Sophie Treadwell's 1928 drama "Machinal"--which he had earlier directed for the city's Naked Angels company--Constance Congdon's "Casanova" and Jose Rivera's "Marisol." He had earlier staged "Marisol" at Hartford Stage Co. as a replacement for George C. Wolfe when Wolfe left to direct "Angels in America" on Broadway.

After Papp died, Greif remained in the position for two years, directing Shakespeare's "Pericles" in 1991. But the artistic associate program was disbanded when Wolfe took over the festival last year.

Greif lived in San Diego from 1982 to 1986 and received an M.F.A. in the theater directing program at UCSD, the campus where La Jolla Playhouse is located. The proximity proved useful; while a student he assistant-directed several Playhouse productions, including "Romeo and Juliet," "As You Like It," and "Big River." This last credit enabled him later to direct the Japanese and Australian productions and an American tour of "Big River."

A native of Brooklyn, Greif received an undergraduate degree from Northwestern University in Chicago, where he studied with Frank Galati, whose production of "The Grapes of Wrath" later played La Jolla.

Greif said that La Jolla will be his "full-time commitment," but he also said the board "made it clear they wanted someone to maintain a national identity," so outside free-lance jobs will be allowed. For now, though, Greif said he is primarily "anxious to find out what those people (in San Diego) want to see."

A statement from board president Gary L. Wollberg said that Greif not only has "directorial excellence, but also savvy business acumen. He's keenly aware of the fiscal responsibilities his new position entails."

Greif said that he's aware of the theater's deficit, though he's not sure how big it is. (The deficit now stands at $1.6 million, said a theater spokesman.) "I feel secure there are structures in place to eradicate it," Greif said, adding that he demonstrated his ability to produce on budget--or to find funds to augment his budgets--during his stint at the Shakespeare Festival.

Greif said on Monday that he had not yet signed a contract and "the specifics" of it "are still a mystery to me," but he "has every intention of signing it."

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