Saturday, the University of Dallas threw a retirement party for theater department chair Patrick Kelly and his wife — theater teacher, critic and former KERA producer — Judy Kelly. At the request of the late UD president Don Cowan, the two Kellys more or less created the UD drama program 41 years ago.
Their careers in Dallas have been a testament to what talent and imagination can do in a small patch. With $50,000 in 1972 from then Mayor J. Erik Jonsson, they transformed a former cafeteria into the Margaret Jonsson Theater — a tiny space that has produced some memorable results. Patrick directed 60 productions there (with an eye for what dramatic lighting and costuming can do when you have almost no room for sets). The Kellys’ former drama students include Emmy Award-winner Peter MacNichol (Sophie’s Choice, Ally McBeal, 24) and Drama Desk nominee Christopher Evan Welch (Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona).
Patrick has been among the finest directors of classic theater in North Texas — and probably in Colorado, too, where he frequently has worked at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. But his devotion to the classics has not been a matter of dusty traditionalism. He has been a remarkable director of contemporary plays as well — from his days running Stage #1 to his award-winning production of Howard Barker’s The Possibilities at the Undermain, his world premiere of Octavio Solis’ Man of the Flesh at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre and a still-memorable film-noir version of David Mamet’s The Water Engine at UD (where I first saw Chris Welch).
As for Judy Kelly, she, in effect, was my predecessor here at KERA, having been the station’s theater critic, a producer of arts reports for the old Arts Eye program, (see below) — then graduating to full-length documentaries, including her award-winning Frozen Music: The Making of the Meyerson Symphony Center. They have been a source of wisdom: The Kellys were the first people I turned to for advice when considering establishing the Dallas Theater Critics Forum Awards in the mid-’80s. And over drinks or in pre-show chats with them, I’ve acquired much of what little knowledge I have about theater history and Dallas history.