Eve Adamson, Cocteau Repertory founder, dies at 68
By Jerry Tallmer
Everybody speaking of heaven ain’t going there, and everybody boasting of repertory ain’t doing it.
Eve Adamson did it.
The Jean Cocteau Repertory company, which she started in 1971 in a storefront on Bond St. in the East Village and ran for the next 18 years, there and, from 1974 on, down the block at the 140-seat Bouwerie Lane, was for most of those years the only true revolving repertory theater in New York City.
Running one play for a couple of weeks, and another play for a couple of weeks, and another play for a couple of weeks, and another play for a couple of weeks, is not revolving repertory. Revolving repertory is when you have two, three, four plays on the boards every week, a day for this one, a day for that one, a day more exactly, a night for the other one, and so on.
That’s what Eve Adamson, who was unexpectedly and grievously snatched from us two Sundays ago, set into motion and kept in motion all those years at the Cocteau; not just that but drawing always on none but the finest playwrights, the finest plays in the canon, from Shakespeare to Beckett and beyond, avant-garde, old garde, any garde.
Many of the offerings, particularly in the beginning, were directed by her. Since parting company with the Cocteau in 2004 a changing managerial philosophy having proved uncongenial she’d freelance directed in this city and across Europe, and was now about to put to stage a new Off-Broadway production of Jean Anouilh’s “Antigone” when on Sunday evening, Oct. 8, she was found dead in her apartment on E. 12th St. between Third and Second Aves.
On Oct. 30 she would have been 69. A very vigorous 69.
“She was a very vital person, tenacious about her work,” said Craig Smith, the actor who broke in at the Cocteau in 1973 and remained with the Cocteau as all-purpose leading man and everything else a pillar of the company until the same disillusioning 2004.
“Eve the director expected you as an actor to have done your work,” said Smith. “She never said it, but it was quite clear that she was not here to give acting lessons. Going off to ‘find your character’ by doing improvs for a while, or by ‘going deeper,’ was not something she had time for.
“She really adored Jean Cocteau for his theater and film work, his feeling for ‘the poetry of the theater,’ the look of a scene, the need to have that magic happen in front of people.”
It is the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, the company launched two years ago by five former members of the Cocteau Smith, his wife Elise Stone, Angela Madden, Michael Surabian and Amy Wagner that’s presenting the “Antigone” at the Connelly Playhouse on E. Fourth St. As of this writing, the intention still is to open the show on Nov. 28.
“Eve was perfectly fine in our meetings about ‘Antigone,’” Smith said. “Some people in her building went into her apartment when a friend she’d asked to bring her food or medicine couldn’t reach her by phone. Eve was dead in bed. We don’t really know what caused it. She’d had some flu-like symptoms, and was always a big smoker. That didn’t help any.”
The two key dates in her life were Oct. 30, 1937, the day she was born in Beverly Hills, Cal., and June 17, 1971, the birthday of Jean Cocteau Rep. Her father was the prolific Oscar-nominated songwriter Harold Adamson. It was a typical Beverly Hills girlhood: Beverly Hills High School in the same class as Joan Crawford’s daughter, people like Fred Astaire dropping by to talk with Dad …
“It was an environment she ultimately rejected,” said actor Smith. “She came to New York, got married briefly to a TV actor, and started a company called the Mainstream Theater [a title that was surely ironic] on E. 14th St., until a fire in the building took care of that. Then came the Cocteau.”
When Craig Smith, a tall, gangling hayseed from the Midwest, showed up on the doorstep of 43 Bond St. in 1973 he was hoping to audition as a cast replacement. Eve Adamson handed him a broom. Between sweeps, he watched a Cocteau production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Twenty years later he would be playing Estragon (opposite Harris Berlinsky’s Vladimir) in the 1993 Cocteau Rep production of “Waiting for Godot” at the Bouwerie Lane.
Say, Craig, that first day you knocked on the door at 43 Bond St. in 1973, did you know who Jean Cocteau was, or what he’d done?
“No. Not the foggiest.”
Now he knows. Thanks to Eve Adamson. To whom many thanks indeed are owed, by very many.