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Christopher Rawson: On Stage

A game of dropping names

Wednesday, September 23, 1998

Just what are "naming rights" really worth? You and I thought that the new O'Reilly Theater had been definitively named. But Monday the Public Theater announced that the performance space in the theater will be named The Barry Rigg Sullivan Auditorium, in recognition of a $1 million gift from Ann and Barry Sullivan.

Cheers to the Sullivans for their generous gift. But questions rush to mind. Did Tony O'Reilly (or, more to the point, Chryss Goulandris, his wife, who orchestrated the $3 million to $5 million naming gift) realize the auditorium could be named out from under him? Of course, the O'Reilly gift was made to the Cultural Trust, builder of the theater, but the Sullivans' gift was made to the Public, the Trust's tenant-to-be. So what happens when the O'Reilly is used by other groups? Does the Sullivan Auditorium name not hold, leaving Dance Alloy, say, free to sell naming rights for the days it performs?

Even so, might the same thing happen to the Sullivans as has to O'Reilly? Couldn't someone else get their name attached to the stage itself, say, the orchestra or balconies? How about (to pick a name at random), The Teri Johns Up-Left Stage Door? Is the Helen Wayne Rauh Rehearsal Hall safe, or might its floor yet be given another name, its walls a third? The possibilities are endless.

There's some precedent, of course - look no further than Andrew Carnegie, spinning in his grave ever since that other Andrew got his name spliced onto his university. Or the JCC, where the new arts building has one name, the theater space another and the stage a third.

Consider the upside of this. PNC Park is set in stone. But what about the stadium or the field within the park? Couldn't we still have Clemente Field, Bob Prince Grandstand, Bill Mazeroski Infield, etc.?

In the future, I imagine the acme of naming gifts will be one that includes preemptive rights - either a plaque placed on every conceivable part of the building in advance, a promised veto of any further names or at least a chance to match any further gifts.

Whatever. For now, I refer this whole subject to the writers of "Forbidden Pittsburgh."

'BURGHERS EVERYWHERE: At the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake last weekend with a PG theater group, I spotted Pittsburghers on every side, including Judy Bansavage, the Ross Musgraves and Gretchen Schmertz Jacobs. And out of the past appeared Trevor O'Donnell, formerly of the Public Theater, now working in California but visiting with his parents.

WHAT DOES THE CHEF CHOOSE FOR HIMSELF? As I reported last week, at last month's Edward Albee Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska, August Wilson joined Delroy Lindo, Ella Joyce and Pittsburghers Javon Johnson, Derrick Sanders and Mark Clayton Southers in dramatic readings from Wilson's plays. Let the record show that the roles Wilson chose to take on were Bynum ("Joe Turner"), Levee ("Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"), Boy Willie ("Piano Lesson"), Memphis ("Two Trains"), Turnbo ("Jitney") and Mister (the uncompleted "King Hedley II"). Johnson, meanwhile, had the thrill of playing Sterling opposite Joyce's Risa ("Two Trains") and Floyd opposite her Vera ("Seven Guitars"), while Sanders played Cory to Lindo's Troy ("Fences").

THEATER HALL OF FAME: Here are some more nominations. Designers: Howard Bay, Ben Edwards, Jane Greenwood, Willa Kim, Peter Larkin, Robin Wagner. Pioneers in Regional Theater: Paul Baker, Gordon Davidson, Zelda Fichandler, Adrian Hall, Margo Jones.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Paid admissions at city's professional theaters for week ending Sept. 20:

Show Boat/Benedum (59%), 13,140

White Devil/PICT (65%), 224

FINAL WORD: " 'Sentimental' is one of those words - another is 'pretentious' - which, intended to be casually damning, almost always point out a deficiency in the heart or mind of the critic." - New Yorker critic Adam Gopnik.

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