I caught David Cromer after a rehearsal for When the Rain Stops Falling, and before he headed down to a Sunday evening performance of his acclaimed production of Our Town, the Thornton Wilder play that has become that rare thing in New York theater these days: a long-run off-Broadway.

Cromer and I conducted the first of what we hope to be several brief conversations during the rehearsal and run of Rain. My primary question on this occasion: Why did Cromer want to direct this play?

"Frankly," he explained, "I was put off by the play when I first read it. Until the end, when we are able to look back and see why things are as they are. So, what drew me to this play is what pissed me off about it." He continued: "Andrew [Bovell] was very brave to write a play that asks the audience for patience at first and that is confident that taking that risk is worth it. The risk makes the play very exciting to do."

Cromer acknowledges that he is better known for directing established work than for launching new plays. "To the extent that people need to attach a trait to people: I do revivals." And yet, counting Rain, the majority of Cromer's productions in New York have been of new work, including Austin Pendleton's play Orson's Shadow, and The Adding Machine, a musical based on the 1923 play by Elmer Rice.

Both Orson's Shadow and The Adding Machine were done in Cromer's native Chicago before New York. "I grew up in Skokie," Cromer says, "right outside Chicago. But from about the age of 16 I was hanging out in the city."

Cromer was an undergrad at Columbia College in Chicago ("I never did 'overgrad,'"), a school that also produced Anna D. Shapiro, who won a Tony award for directing August: Osage County. Cromer is also an actor (he played the Stage Manager in Our Town), an avocation he explained to me: "Acting is something I pursued when I was younger and it comes up that I end up acting in something every couple of years or so now. But I'm not serious about being an actor; I don't pound the pavement." He added: "As an actor, I am an enlightened amateur. I don't love it enough to put up with what real actors have to put up with."

BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.