Irene Crist in "Ripcord" 

If Memphis is a theater town as actor/director Irene Crist asserts, she did her part to make it so. As a performer, she's set a high bar. As a teacher for Playhouse on the Square's conservatory, she's shared her gifts across generations. She's retiring from the stage in June after one last performance at Circuit Playhouse in Ripcord, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's geriatric farce about odd-couple roommates who find themselves 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 39 years ago in 1978. 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. 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 a smoky-voiced waitress in The Full Monty and the pharmaceutical-impaired matriarch of August: Osage County — will bow out on one, too.

click to enlarge Irene Crist
  • Irene Crist

"Now, I don't want people to think I'm leaving the theater," Crist says, unable to bear the thought of getting out for good. In recent years she's turned her attention to directing, staging an epic production of Angels in America, in addition to smaller odder pieces like Hand to God. That part of her stage life will continue, Crist says. But fans who've enjoyed her performances in shows like Burn This, Oliver, The Lion in Winter, The Little Dog Laughed, Frozen, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have only one more opportunity to catch this Memphis classic working her magic under the light.

"Ripcord" at the Circuit Playhouse June 2nd-25th. playhouseonthesquare.org

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