By Lynn Venhaus
Edward Coffield likes to make people laugh.
As a director, his forte has been comedy, and this past year, he has helmed “Life Sucks” and “An Act of God” at the New Jewish Theatre, where he took over the reins as Artistic Director from longtime chief Kathleen Sitzer, who retired in July after 22 years.
Kathleen programmed the 2018-2019 season, and he collaborated with her. The season opened with “Raging Skillet” on Oct. 3, then “An Act of God” Nov. 29 – Dec. 16 and continues with the upcoming “District Merchants” Jan. 24 – Feb. 10, “Time Stands Still” March 28 – April 14, and “I Now Pronounce” May 16 – June 2, a wedding comedy, which he will direct.
In assuming the Artistic Director position, Coffield said he wanted to deepen and extend the relationship he had with the company for 16 years, most recently as associate artistic director.
“New Jewish has a very steady and loyal audience who are smart and love a great story,” he said.
During his tenure at NJT, he directed “Yentl,” the original 2005 production of “Driving Miss Daisy,” “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding,” “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” and the award-winning “Jacob and Jack,” among many others. He was nominated for a Kevin Kline Award for “From Door to Door” and by the St. Louis Theater Circle for his work on the farce “Is He Dead?” for St. Louis Shakespeare.
Currently, he is working on “District Merchants,” which is being directed by Jacqueline Thompson.
This adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” takes love and litigation, deep passions and predatory lending to a new level as it explores race, religion, power and money in America.
“I am very excited to produce this play. When Kathleen Sitzer (NJT’s founding Artistic Director) was planning the 2018-19 season we had several conversations about producing ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ which we had produced previously in 2005. It is one of those plays that continues to remain relevant. The Jewish people read the Torah year after year. Not because the Torah changed but because we change. Maybe that is true with great plays, they should be revisited,” he said.
“Kathleen knew about this adaptation and we both like Aaron Posner the playwright (author of “Life Sucks”) – so it seemed like the perfect time to produce this play. Posner expertly blends humor, emotional truths and topics that make people think. He is able to create characters who are deeply flawed, like we are. In his ‘uneasy’ comedy, he wants us to look at a snapshot in time, the Reconstruction Era, but what he has written is relevant to audiences today,” he said.
What might be his calling card, the signature of a Coffield production?
“People tell me I have a knack for casting well,” he said.
Coffield recently directed the comedy “An Act of God,” which the New York Times referred to as “A gut-busting-funny riff on the never-ending folly of mankind’s attempts to fathom God’s wishes through the words of the Bible and use them to their own ends.”
In this 2015 play by David Javerbaum, God decides to introduce revised laws and doesn’t hold back.
“It’s funny, funny, funny,” he said, “plus Alan Knoll.”
Coffield and Knoll have worked on more than a dozen productions.
“We are close friends. He might be the funniest actor I know,” he said.
After three decades here, he will only take on certain projects.
“I will not direct a show that does not speak to me emotionally or intellectually,” he said.
In addition to running the J, he is on the faculty of the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University, and freelances as a director. He has directed for Insight Theatre Company, St. Louis Shakespeare, Stray Dog Theatre, Ozark Actors Theatre and The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, and the former Orange Girls company.
He spent 28 years at The Rep as production manager.
“He understands how the theatre business works. He connects well with artists, technicians, staff and contributors,” said Steven Woolf, Artistic Director of the Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis, when Coffield was announced as NJT Artistic Director.
Working in the local theater community has its rewards, Coffield noted.
“We are a great theatre town and we continue to grow and expand. It is a very exciting time to be a theatre maker here,” he said. “I am so honored to be part of a great theatre community.”
The downside is: “There is a lot of theatre here and scheduling can be tricky,” he said.
As a new year is about to begin, he is excited about what’s ahead.
“I look forward to continue the growth and success of NJT,” Coffield said.
For more information, visit www.newjewishtheatre.org
Here are Edward’s answers to our Take Ten Questions:
Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
“From an early age, I knew I wanted to be a producer. I suppose at that point, I did not really know what that meant. I have come to learn that it means leading the collaborative process of theatre on stage and off.”
How would your friends describe you?
How do you like to spend your spare time?
“Avid Foodie and Cook.”
What is your current obsession?
“Old episodes of “Perry Mason.”
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
“As gregarious as I am, I am very shy.”
Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
“Years ago, in summer stock, I was stage managing a production of “Hello, Dolly!” One night as we are about to start the title song, I looked in to the audience and watched a 60-something man put his arm around his (I presume) wife. They snuggled together and sang along at the top of their lungs. I was so touched, I laughed and then teared up. It was a great reminder of the power and sweetness that the theatre has to make people change.
Who do you admire most?
“My late twin brother Philip. An actor and director – he taught me about theatre and most importantly, he taught me how to laugh.”
8. What is at the top of your Bucket List?
“A trip to Italy, Israel, Argentina …..it’s a long list.”
What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
“Directing ‘I Now Pronounce’ for New Jewish Theatre.”
More about Edward:
Name: Edward (Eddie) Coffield
Birthplace: New Mexico
Current location: University City
Family: 2 cats (Barnaby and Cornelius), amazing father and siblings, and the greatest friends in the world.
Education: University of Texas at Austin
Day job: Artistic Director-Producer the New Jewish Theatre
First job: Long John Silver – “Ahoy, can I help you!”
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Multiple nominee Best Director- Circle Awards and Kline Awards
Favorite quote/words to live by: “Prance with vigor.”
A song that makes you happy: “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin.
By Lynn Venhaus