Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, April 26, 2018

gatz3The company in a scene from ‘Gatz,’ running from Sept. 26-Nov. 28 at The Public Theater. (Photo by Mark Barton)

 

NEW YORK – Broadway, for all its notoriety, is really a small parcel of Manhattan real estate. With the exception of uptown’s Lincoln Center Theater, it is mostly squeezed into a 12-block radius east and west of Times Square. It is a collection of 31 theaters, mostly built in the early years of the 20th century, that are run by three major conglomerates: The Shubert Organization, which owns 17 theaters; the Nederlander Organization, with nine; and Jujamcyn Theaters, with five. Together, they constitute what is known to the world as the Broadway theater.

Yet, official Broadway is only a tiny part of New York’s theater scene. A plethora of Off and Off Off Broadway theaters dot the city’s canyons from the Bronx border right down to Battery Park. These theaters, which playwright Kirk Bromley recently christened "indie theater," present a variety of fare in venues that range from office buildings to storefronts, churches and schools; really anywhere artists can rent a cheap space.

The quality of the presentations is as varied as their locations, though over the years, several emerging companies have matured nicely and gained a reputation for presenting first-class theatrical fare at half (or sometimes even less) the price of their mainstream commercial counterparts.

What follows is a selection of these theaters. Be forewarned: like any creative enterprise they are not infallible; each does come up with the occasional cropper, but on the whole, their batting averages are pretty impressive and their production values and acting talent tend to be consistently first-rate. Quite a few of these theaters have nurtured shows that have gone on to Broadway success:

• The Mint Theater, which is only a block and a half away from Broadway, presents what its artistic director, Jonathan Bank, calls "worthy but neglected" works. Over the years, it has dusted off some extraordinary works, such as "The Voysey Inheritance" by Harley Granville Barker and A.A. Milne’s comedy, "Mr. Pim Passes." Most recently, the theater unearthed Teresa Deevy’s critically acclaimed "Wife to James Whelan" by the Irish playwright Teresa Deevy, who achieved considerable fame in the 1930s at Dublin’s Abbey Theater. When a change in artistic command occured at the Abbey, Ms. Deevy disappeared into obscurity. Mr. Bank is devoted to Ms. Deevy’s work, so if you missed "Wife of James Whelan" (scheduled to close on Oct. 3), you can catch another of her plays, a 1932 breakthrough drama, "Temporal Powers," next season.

– Mint Theater Company, 311 W. 43rd St., third floor; www.minttheater.org.

• The Pearl Theatre had been presenting middling work at its location in the East Village for years, Then, last season, it hired a new artistic director, J.R. Sullivan, and moved to new digs, in midtown’s City Center complex. Here, the productions have taken on a new vitality. Through Oct. 3, the Pearl will present "The Sneeze" by Michael Frayn, the British playwright responsible for such diverse plays as "Noises Off" and "Copenhagen." Here, Mr. Frayn, a frequent adapter of Anton Chekhov’s works, puts his interpretive spin on Mr. Chekhov’s wild and funny vaudeville vignettes. Next up, The Pearl plans a more serious endeavor: Ibsen’s "Rosmersholm"; then, Moliere’s comedy "The Misanthrope."

– The Pearl Theatre Company, New York City Center Stage, 131 W. 55th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues; www.pearltheatre.org.

• For 23 years, The Irish Repertory Company has been presenting theater celebrating the heritage of Ireland. It is headed by indefatigable Ciaran O’Reilly, producing director; and Charlotte Moore, artistic director. One month, you might get Eugene O’Neill’s "The Hairy Ape," and the next, the late Frank McCourt’s revue "The Irish…and How They Got That Way." But whatever the bill, you usually leave entertained and feeling smarter. Playing now through Dec. 5 is "Banished Children of Eve" by Kelly Younger, adapted from Peter Quinn’s award-winning, epic novel set during the Civil War in New York.

– Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St. between 6th and 7th Avenues; www.irishrep.org.

• The Vineyard Theater off Union Square presents mostly interesting new work. Last season, it premiered one of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb’s last musical collaborations, "The Scottsboro Boys," now on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre on West 45th Street. This winter, it plans to present the 1965 Alan Jay Lerner/Burton Lane musical "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," which has been reconceived by director Michael Mayer. Currently getting ready to open is "Middletown" by Will Eno, a new play about the mysteries of small- town life. It features the familiar face of Georgia Engel, whom you probably remember as the ditzy Georgette from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Performances begin Oct. 13.

– Vineyard Theater, 108 E.15th St. at Union Square; www.vineyardtheatre.org.

• If  Michael Frayn’s "The Sneeze" makes you laugh, you might want to check out the Keen Company’s production of an earlier Frayn work, "Alphabetical Order," which also is a comedy, but this time a more contemporary take on the mayhem at a British newspaper. The Keen Company specializes in presenting plays of the 1950s and ’60s and ’70s, most of which have not been seen since their premieres or, like "Alphabetical Order," have never played in New York. It runs through Oct. 23.

– Keen Company, Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St. between 9th and 10th Avenues; www.keencompany.org.

• Primary Stages’ mission is just like its name: presenting plays and musicals that have never been seen on any New York stage before. Its fall season is opening with a new a cappella musical, "In Transit," which features an ensemble of seven actors playing a multitude of New York denizens. It is scheduled through Oct. 30.

– Primary Stages, 59 E. 59th St. between Madison and Park Avenues; www.primarystages.org.

• For movie star excitement, you might want to check out the Classic Stage Company, which this winter will present Chekhov’s "Three Sisters" with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard. That will be followed by a curio, a newly discovered play by William Shakespeare called "Double Falsehood." Sounds like a mystery to me.

– Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St., between 3rd and 4th Avenues; www.classicstage.org.

• Last, but by no means least, The Public is also presenting what seems like another curio, "Gatz," an eight-hour reading of the complete F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby, through Nov. 28.

For more traditional fare, you can see The Public’s Shakespeare in the Park for free each summer. This year’s hot-weather hit, Shakespeare’s "The Merchant of Venice," starring Al Pacino, is moving to Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre on West 44th Street on Oct. 19. So, what was free in the summer in Central Park will now cost you a three-figure Broadway tariff, which makes taking a gamble and a gambol to Off or Off Off Broadway’s "indie theaters" all the more appealing.

– The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.; www.publictheater.org.

Bernard Carragher lives in New York and covers the arts and entertainment.