It’s unclear from the press release – sent by a board member – whether Producing Artistic Director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj’s sudden departure from the downtown St. Petersburg theater left under his own steam or at the behest of the board.
“I would like to thank my American Stage colleagues, our local theater and community partners, and all those who have supported me during my fruitful time here. I wish American Stage much success,” said Maharaj, according to the press release.
Maharaj, who started at the storied theater in October 2021, replaced Stephanie Gularte, who served as Artistic Director for six years. She replaced Todd Olson, the theater’s AD for 11 years.
Unlike many artistic director’s, Maharaj was not timid about challenging reviews of shows.
When Creative Loafing Tampa’s Jon Palmer Claridge fat-shamed a lead actress in his February 10 review of “African Mean Girls”, Maharaj penned a letter in response:
“… We will not quote the critic’s review. However, to summarize, he found the casting choice for one of our lead roles to be questionable and disruptive to the experience through the lens, as a white man, of his standard of what beauty is. He went to great lengths to inform readers that having an African American woman with curves play a young woman that would go on to win a beauty pageant was not only historically inaccurate, but then proceeded to assume that audiences would not be able to connect to the story because of this,” a portion of his letter, which the publication added beneath the review, read.
(The Gabber also reviewed “African Mean Girls.”)
On Maharaj’s web page, he calls himself an “American Theatre Artist and Activist.”
Chair of the board Anastasia Hiotis officially thanked Maharaj.
“I would like to thank Rajendra for the work he has done for our organization and for sharing his talents with the Tampa Bay community,” she said, adding: “We wish him success in his future endeavors.”
CJ Zygadlo, the theater’s managing director, will serve as the interim director.
American Stage will conduct a national search for a new artistic director.
The Gabber reached out to both Maharaj and American Stage; neither has responded.