By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
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By Erin Sherbert
Ambush holds that an organization of ACT's size has a "responsibility to a theatrical aesthetic that can meaningfully embrace the differences that abound in the Bay Area, where segments of the entire world live; this is the very essence of the term 'regional.' " He feels that kind of leadership "can occur at any budget level. I think the added responsibility of size at ACT is to develop a place where everybody who lives here, no matter who they are, can say, 'That's my theater,' and mean it. ACT is not there yet. I'm not making a judgment. Is it possible to have so many voices and embrace them all? A series of plays that give equal time, as well as food for the soul? I think it's possible. That's what I'm about: My view is decidedly pluralistic. I wasn't running ACT. It's Carey's theater. She's a tough cookie. She's passionate about her aesthetic; there are areas where her passion and mine intersect, and there are areas where they don't."
Since Ambush's departure, Perloff has responded to the matter with magnanimity: "I really hope we will find the right thing for Benny down the road." (Ambush's response: "After five years in senior artistic position [at ACT], I got a show on the Geary stage coming to me. ... Carey and I have worked successfully in the past; she's been supportive of all my projects.")
Perloff shares Ambush's desire for some future collaboration ("I really kept the door open") while remaining realistic about her need to have the final word. "There are always going to be people who either hold on to the way they've always done it or are going to disagree. And they should go. And they have, for the most part. ... Finding the right marriage is hard. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't."
She emphasizes her attempts to develop the new plays Ambush calls for in a "lab space, one of my dreams" -- an effort acknowledged by local playwright Octavio Solis, who says he and ACT "are working on developing a commission" for the company. Perloff also points to ACT's acting school (the "conservatory" of the name), where new director Melissa Smith hopes to stage small-scale productions of new plays.
Still, Perloff often seems overwhelmed: "I think the hardest thing about this job is that someone is always going to be unhappy. If you're a real Jewish mother like me and you want people to be happy, it's really upsetting because you want them to feel taken care of and respected and nurtured, and at the same time, I don't think anyone realizes the conflicting demands that go into running an operation like this. ... Here I am, trying to hold this place together and open the Geary and work on The Tempest, and of course I feel, like, will I ever do honor to this play? And what if it fails? And what does it mean to ACT? There's no guide to tell you if you're doing it right. No safety net. And no one ever tells you, 'Oh, you're doing a great job, keep going.' "
So she takes solace in her friends ("I call Olympia [Dukakis] to talk all the time. She ran a theater for 19 years. She gets it better than anybody. She really understands what it takes") and her family: Perloff and her husband, Russian affairs specialist (and recent Boalt Law School grad) Anthony Giles, have two children, 6-year-old Lexie and 1-year-old Nicholas. "When you go home and there's this little cherub crawling toward you and he sits there and applauds, I think, No one's ever going to love me like that," Perloff reflects. "And that helps a lot, having something in your life that isn't just theater. Then if you get a terrible review, it isn't the end of your life. I've never felt the same about reviews since I had children."
The cycle of conflict, climax, and resolution that had marked Perloff's tenure at ACT was beginning to enter its third act as she made the final pitch for her season opener. In mid-May, she wrote one more time to Stoppard, again seeking his good will in hastening the decision-making process. In typical fashion, he returned her letter on May 15, informing Perloff: "Kenneth [Ewing, Stoppard's agent] returns tomorrow from a week's vacation -- I'll make sure your letter is dealt with first thing. I hope you'll get a clear answer by the time you wake up! Nothing ever seems straightforward. I'm sorry."
That "sorry" was troublingly ambiguous: Did it foreshadow the producers' decision? Or was it merely the gentlemanly Stoppard apologizing for one of life's maddening delays? Perloff couldn't help fretting.
In the end, it boiled down to a few simple words, as stories in the theater often do. "You have it," the dry, British voice on the phone declared, as clearly and distinctly as if uttered from center stage of some great auditorium. It belonged to Stoppard's agent. "It's yours."
The words, uttered over the phone, brought a bewildered smile to Carey Perloff's face, then a laugh as the triumph began to sink in. "Did he just give me the rights to this play?" Perloff wondered aloud. After convening her staff and announcing the news, she allowed herself a moment of athletic exhilaration -- "I ran around the block a couple of times" -- then began making plans to fly to New York the following day to begin casting, in her capacity as director, the ACT production of the West Coast premiere of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.
For Carey Perloff, that dreaded, gut-wrenching, and ultimately invigorating terror of the new season was about to begin.