The Saint of George Street
George Street Playhouse artistic director David Saint's innovative vision has helped the venue become one of the most popular in the state.
When David Saint’s long-ago ancestor, a sea captain from Wales, splintered his ship off the coast of Cape Cod, he must have reckoned it a sign. As the story goes, he built a house to replace the ship—on what eventually became Saint’s Landing Beach in Brewster, Massachusetts, a mill town—and it was in that same house that Saint’s grandfather and father were born.
Generations later, the same wanderlust infected David Saint, who was a journeyman stage director helming productions in 36 states. A dozen years ago, he was poised to direct the TV series Just Shoot Me when the call came from George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick: Would he come aboard as artistic director? He set a course for New Jersey—coincidentally, Milltown—where he’s been ever since.
The theatrical profession is often associated with ragged old steamer trunks, but Saint thinks of his 375-seat space as a designer handbag. Because of its intimacy, proximity to Manhattan, and solid reputation among actors, it has become a draw for top-tier playwrights and directors who often prefer the spotlight on their work rather than the spectacle of Broadway.
Under Saint’s stewardship, the 36-year-old theater has developed a niche for new chamber musicals and provocative plays. In the past decade, the musicals The Toxic Avenger and The Spitfire Grill had their world premieres under Saint’s watch before moving to the off-Broadway stage. David Auburn’s Proof was unveiled at George Street’s 1999 Next Stage Series for fledgling playwrights, then swept up three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize during its subsequent off-Broadway and Broadway runs; it returned to George Street for a full staging in 2003.
As artistic director, the 46-year-old Saint likens himself to a nutritionist planning a balanced diet each season for his audiences: comedies for appetizers, dramas for the main course, and musicals as frothy desserts.
Next up for George Street is “a light soufflé”: Barry Wyner’s new musical Calvin Berger, a modern take on the classic romance Cyrano de Bergerac, set in a high school. A-lister Kathleen Marshall is signed to choreograph and direct. Over the summer, Saint will turn his attention to rehearsing George Street’s production of Sylvia with Rachel Dratch. He’ll also be auditioning and rehearsing actors as director of the upcoming national tour of Broadway’s West Side Story. Saint is the New York production’s associate director under Arthur Laurents, his longtime mentor.
Saint, a former divinity school student who was attracted by mysticism of the theatrical kind, is amused by theater fans who feel compelled to travel to Manhattan. “It always kills me when people call me: ‘Can you get me a ticket to Toxic Avenger in New York, can you get me a ticket to Proof in New York?’ I say, ‘Yeah, but it’s going to cost you a lot more. Why didn’t you see it here for less?’”