The Playgoer: The New Off-Bway

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Friday, December 23, 2005

The New Off-Bway

Interesting--and even hope-lifting?--feature in today's Times about a few of the more enterprising Off-Broadway houses getting some ink. (Evidence: here's some ink about them!, saith the Times.)

Of course there are many "successful" small Off-Broadway shows. But one of these impresario sums up the problem nicely:

"If you're a theater owner, the dream is that you're the Westside Arts Center, and you have 'I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change' upstairs and 'Jewtopia' downstairs," Mr. [Jon] Steingart of Ars Nova said. "But for us that's a worst-case scenario, because then the 10 things that are in the queue that want to come in wouldn't get their chance."
I think we can all agree that particular scenario is "worst-case" all around, no?

I will second here that the downtown "Culture Project" is a real success story, and it's because it has carved out a real niche--unapologetic lefty activist theatre. Exonerated and Guantanamo (US premiere), for instance, were introduced here and had boffo runs for the faithful. Personally, I found both surprisingly tepid as political theatre--and as theatre. (Guantanamo ended up being a play about lawyers!) But who cares. People came in droves and used the theatre as a focal point of public discourse and outrage. (Yeah, yeah and then went to nearest wine bar to forget about it, whatever...) I do like how Allan Buchman, who runs it, expresses his mission: "I think of this as 'salon theater.' " Yes, a salon. Why do we always have to appeal to everybody?

One thing the article completely misses--and that may not be clear to an out-of-town reader--is that the examples are indiscriminately drawn from all over town. Robert Lyons, the mastermind of the downtown hotspot Ohio Theatre (in the heart of deep Soho) is asked whether he feels "competition" from the very-near Bloomingdale's 59E59, specializing in Terrence McNally and various nostalgia-acts. Duh! Lyons's audience wouldn't be caught dead in squaresville, and the uptown Daddios are not going to cab down to a sidestreet in Soho for a night of Sarah Kane done by naked foreigners ( to choose but one example of their varied programming). A little context, please.

In fact the success of nice middlebrow smaller spaces doing something other than "Jewtopia" is newsworthy, so I'd like to see an article on that. There's been no problem getting the hipsters to drop in and take a chance on new theatre. No news there. But will the Bloomingdales set take a chance on anything not already endorsed by the NYT. Or that isn't that inexplicable juggernaut I Love You You're Perfect Now Change? (click at your own risk)

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