AK: Resetting The Stage

Chicago Cam Byrnes: Ricci Adan choreographed “Chicago” for Juneau’s Perseverance Theatre. (Photo by Cam Byrnes/Perseverance Theatre)
Chicago Cam Byrnes: Ricci Adan choreographed “Chicago” for Juneau’s Perseverance Theatre. (Photo by Cam Byrnes/Perseverance Theatre)

Ricci Adan is a performing artist in Juneau. Locals know her as an actor, dance teacher and choreographer, most recently of Perseverance Theatre’s “Chicago.”

What people may not know is that in 1981, her husband Richard Adan was killed – stabbed on the streets of New York City by a released convict who was a protégé of Pulitzer Prize winning writer Norman Mailer.

The murder trial was highly publicized. But, Adan is just beginning to tell her side of the story.

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It’s 10 a.m. at Riverbend Elementary School and Ricci Adan is leading her third dance class of the day. She teaches up to six a day, but she doesn’t get tired.

“How can you get tired with kids smiling at you and saying, ‘Hi Ms. Ricci. I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I did my homework,’” she said.

Ricci Adan works with dancers for Perseverance Theatre’s “Oklahoma.” (Photo courtesy Philip Krauter)
Ricci Adan works with dancers for Perseverance Theatre’s “Oklahoma.” (Photo courtesy Philip Krauter)

Ricci is no stranger in Juneau schools. During her four years in the city, she’s worked with many classes and choreographed high school productions, like “Kiss Me Kate” and “Pippin.” She’s also worked on professional productions. This past winter she choreographed “Chicago” for Perseverance Theater.

Artistic Director Art Rotch says at first, there was doubt the dance heavy show could be done in the small theater. Ricci said she could make the dancing work, and she delivered.

“It just blew me away,” Ricci said. “It exceeded all expectations how good it was. That team just worked really well together. They were magic.”

Ricci’s work in Juneau over the past four years has given her a strength she didn’t know she had to revisit her painful past.

At age 18, Ricci was the dance captain of the Nat Horne Musical Theatre in New York City. It was 1979, the year she met Richard Adan.

“He was very ambitious. He wanted to be a star. He was a writer. He had dreams and you could see that this guy wanted so much in life,” Ricci said.

Ricci Adan works with students in the JAMM school musical program. (Photo courtesy Karen Allen)
Ricci Adan works with students in the JAMM school musical program. (Photo courtesy Karen Allen)

She didn’t like him at first, but they ended up dancing together in the company and fell in love. They married in 1981.

Her parents owned a popular Manhattan restaurant called Binibon. Both she and Richard worked there as servers. He had the graveyard shift.

Ricci says she got a call from Richard early in the morning on July 18, 1981.

“He said, ‘I’m finishing. I’m going home now and I have three people here – a guy and two girls.’ And I said, ‘OK. Come home. What are you doing?’ ‘I’m doing the ketchups right now. So, as soon as I’m done, I’m going home,’” Ricci said.

Richard never came home.

The guy with two girls at the restaurant was 37-year-old Jack Henry Abbott. He was a recently released felon who had spent the better part of his life in jail for crimes like check fraud, killing an inmate and robbing a bank. At that point, he was also a published author. His book, “In the Belly of the Beast,” is a collection of letters he wrote from prison about prison life and sent to Norman Mailer, who composed the book’s introduction. They had struck up a relationship while Mailer was writing “The Executioner’s Song.”

Ricci Adan (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Ricci Adan (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Mailer described Abbott’s writing as “remarkable,” and called him a “self-made intellectual” and a “potential leader.” Mailer thought he should be released. According to The New York Times, Mailer wrote to the prison and said he’d hire Abbott as a research assistant if he was paroled.

After spending the majority of his life incarcerated, Abbott was released from the Utah State Prison in June. He stabbed and killed Richard Adan less than two months later.

Ricci says it was her father who called to tell her the news.

“And I said, ‘What do you mean? What am I going to do? I just ironed his clothes. I just washed his contacts, so who’s going to use that now? What am I going to do?’” she said.

Richard Adan lies dead in the street the morning he was stabbed. (Image courtesy Ricci Adan)
Richard Adan lies dead in the street the morning he was stabbed. (Image courtesy Ricci Adan)

A day after the stabbing, The New York Times Book Review coincidentally came out with a glowing review of Abbott’s book.

He was arrested and tried for murder in 1982. Ricci was hounded by reporters. At the trial, she saw celebrities in the courtroom like Mailer, Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken.

“The painful thing is that when the publicity came out, media didn’t even know who my husband was. He was “a waiter.” That was his term,” Ricci said.

Abbott was found guilty of manslaughter, but not murder, and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Years later, in 2002, Abbott hung himself in prison. He was 58.

“He didn’t even face his term. He didn’t even face that. He couldn’t even say that ‘I’m sorry.’ No remorse, nothing. And that to me is cowardly. So I said, ‘There you go, he got away with it again,’” Ricci said.

But over the years, Ricci’s anger has dissipated and she spends her days and nights teaching the performing arts to kids and adults. And now, for the first time, she’s ready to turn her painful   experience into art.

“It’s going to be a rollercoaster, but it’s going to be exciting because now I’m ready for it,” Ricci said.

She’s choreographing and writing a play based on her life. Broadway and film director Charles Randolph-Wright is a co-writer and an old friend. Ricci is also writing an autobiography that is planned to become a screenplay and film.