Irene Crist in The Little Dog Laughed.
If Memphis is a theater town as Irene Crist asserts, she did her part to make it so. As an actor, she’s set a high bar. As a teacher for Playhouse on the Square’s conservatory, she shared her gift across generations. She retired from the stage in June after one last performance at Circuit Playhouse in Ripcord
, Pulitzer-prize winning playwright David Lindsey-Abaire’s farce about odd-couple roommates in an all-out brawl to determine who reigns supreme in the nursing home.
Crist has been one of Memphis’ most reliable and recognizable actors since she first went to work for Jackie Nichols and Playhouse on the Square in a 1978 production of Much Ado About Nothing
. She’s known Overton Square in its glory days, remembers when it hit the skids, and watched it bounce back and the number of theaters grow from one to four. She dropped into the scene on a high note and it looks like the classically trained actress who built a reputation for versatility, playing characters that ranged from Shakespeare’s ingenues to the pharmaceutical-impaired matriarch of August: Osage County
, is bowing out on one too.
Crist's also known for her work as a director. This past season she helmed Ostrander nominated productions of Disgraced
and Hand to God.
She plans to continue that part of her career. Teaching too.
Before moving South Crist worked as a full-time actress with a small startup theater company in Rockville, Maryland. Street 70, the company where she cut her teeth, started out as a project of the Montgomery County Dept. of Recreation. It grew into the Round House Theatre, an award-winning Beltway company with an Equity venue in Bethesda and an education center in Silver Springs. Helping to launch this company was Crist’s first real job. It was also the continuation of a lifelong student/mentor relationship with Round House founder June Allen, a British actress who’d trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts under the guidance of British stage icons like Sir Michael Redgrave and Sir John Gielgud.
After working with Playhouse on the Square for a number of years Crist took a break from the stage to raise her kids. Her post-2001 comeback was accompanied by a shift in artistic focus. In addition to acting for Playhouse, she started directing shows for smaller theaters and suburban companies like Desoto Family Theatre. It was all pretty small stuff until 2010, when Theatre Memphis revived a production of Much Ado
that Crist had set at the end of the Vietnam war and originally staged for Bartlett Community Theatre. The revival brought Crist’s Shakespearean romp more attention than it originally received and high praise for an offbeat cast and original, authentically psychedelic musical arrangements
created by her son, Bennett Foster.
So Much Ado
— Crist’s first show as an actor in Memphis — also heralded her arrival as a director of note. In 2013, her epic simultaneous staging of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America
Parts 1 and 2 swept Memphis’ Ostrander Awards, bringing home 15 play prizes including Best Dramatic Production and a Best Director nod for Crist. In the following season she used her newfound talent for directing two plays at a time to stage richly imagined productions of Chekhov’s The Seagull
, and Christopher Durang’s Chekhov-inspired comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
. Like Angels
, it was an enormous undertaking and a similarly enormous success with Memphis theater judges, earning Crist and Playhouse a second round of Best Director and Best Production Ostranders for the Durang.
The story continues this month when Crist is honored with the Yugart Eurian award for lifetime achievement in Memphis theater at The Ostranders.
The Eugart Yerian Award for Lifetime Achievement will be presented at the 2017 Ostrander Awards, Sunday, August 27 at the Orpheum Theatre. Cocktails at 6 p.m. awards and show at 7 p.m. Tickets are available online. Just follow this link.
Jerre Dye, David Foster and an Angel. Angels in America.
Hosted by Sister.