Direct from Center Stage

May 06, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

IRENE LEWIS, acting artistic director for the 1991-92 season at Center Stage and mastermind of the madcap version of "Twelfth Night" playing its last week at the theater, has a long roster of credentials.

Associate artist at Center Stage for five years and former associate director of the Hartford Stage Company for eight years, Lewis also directed for the Philadelphia Drama Guild and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

With such an impressive record of achievements one would never guess Lewis was once a swing director for the television soap "Another World."

"I went into television to learn camera technique," she explained. "It is very difficult. I was swing [alternate] director for 'Another World,' but the producer who hired me got fired and I went with him.

"It happened again," she said. "I was assigned to shoot 'Santa Barbara,' but the man who hired me got fired.

"I found the content of the soaps so shallow . . . ultimately too empty, so I decided to get out. You have only one day to do an hour TV show. It takes an entire life to do great plays well."

Tall and dark-haired with a ready smile and forthright manner, Lewis was seated in a comfortable wing chair in Stan Wojewodski Jr.'s office during a recent matinee. Wojewodski, Center Stage's artistic mentor for the past 13 years, is leaving to take on duties as dean of the Yale Drama School and artistic director for the Yale Repertory Theatre. Lewis received her master's in theater arts from the Yale Drama School graduate program.

Lewis has also attained success in select academic circles as a guest faculty member and director at New York University, the Juilliard School of Music and Cornell University.

Abroad, she has directed Michael Weller's "Loose Ends" for the National Theatre of Macedonia in Skopje, Yugoslavia.

A born and bred New Yorker, she still maintains a residence there with her husband, architect Mitchell Kurtz.

Lewis comes from a Bronx blue-collar background, and as a young girl she had little exposure to the arts. She and her family later moved to Long Island. "In high school, the drama teacher talked me into getting off the cheerleading squad so I could start acting," she said.

"I acted at Yale and then switched over to directing. I prefer the anonymity of direction. You have more control over your life. But I understand the actor's viewpoint . . . where he is coming from. I am very fond of actors," she said.

Lewis was involved in both political and conventional theater during her eight years with the Hartford Stage Company. "It was right out of the '60s, a different time. A wonderful job for a starting director.

The New York Times always reviewed Hartford," she added. "It gave us a certain amount of pressure, but we felt right in the midst of things."

Lewis directed last season's world premiere of "Miss Evers' Boys" at Center Stage. Her Center Stage credits include "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," "Aunt Dan and Lemon," "Uncle Vanya," "Reunion," "The School for Wives," "Another Part of the Forest" and "Watch on the Rhine."

Looking ahead, Lewis observed, "As interim director I would like to stage a wider range of plays . . . do some new American works . . . present some new voices. I want to attract exciting directors and encourage a broader base of the community to attend both the Pearlstone and Head Theater productions."

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