Last week brought sudden announcements of both a new beginning and a tragic ending for two disparate theater artists.
David Esbjornson, who helmed the first-ever production of Angels in America when it bowed at San Francisco's Eureka Theatre before taking the rest of the country by storm, was named the replacement for Seattle Repertory Theatre's departing artistic director, Sharon Ott, on Friday, Jan. 28. The Kushner award winner isn't the only estimable premiere on Esbjornson's résumé: He also staged the New York debuts of two Edward Albee works (The Play About the Baby and the Tony-winning The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?) as well as the first appearance of Arthur Miller's Resurrection Blues, at the Guthrie Theatre, among many others. Previously the artistic director of New York's Classic Stage Company for seven years, Esbjornson has had an active freelance career and should bring much-needed vigor to the Rep. In addition to his important contributions to the evolution of Angels at the Eureka and various plays with the Guthrie, he's directed at Connecticut's Long Wharf Theatre and recently staged some high-profile Shakespeare for New York's Joseph Papp Public Theatre. His relationships with writers such as Kushner, Miller, and Albee were undoubtedly considered ideal qualifications for leading a Seattle theater intent on continuing its status as the city's most prestigious venue for big-name, big-budget productions. In the next few weeks, Esbjornson will contribute to the process of planning the theater's 2005–06 season, but his official in-house residency at the Rep has yet to be determined.
In heartbreaking news, former Seattle theater writer-actor-producer Nicole duFresne, 28, was shot in the chest and killed in New York by an armed robber in the early morning of Thursday, Jan. 27. According to AP reports, duFresne, a Minneapolis native who received raves locally for her harrowing asylum piece Burning Cage in the 2002 Fringe Festival, was murdered after a group of men grabbed for the purse of her friend and duFresne asked, "What are you going to do, shoot us?" Jeffrey Sparks, duFresne's fiancé, was pistol-whipped for pushing aside the mugger. Seattle performer Mary Jane Gibson (most recently seen in ACT's Black Coffee), who co-wrote and performed Cage with duFresne, was also a witness to the shooting.
DuFresne had moved to Brooklyn from Seattle two years ago, and performed another new piece there, Matter, in 2003. Her Web site, www.nicoledufresne.com, gives proof of a lovely young woman whose career was brought to an end in one ugly moment.