The Times today goes wide with the Provincetown Playhouse story. But the article smacks of the worst of corporate journalism, of big NY institutions (NYT & NYU) cozying up to each other.
Basically it's covered as just a real estate squabble. And the NYU side of the story is given far more play than any other, giving the impression it's exactly the story the university would want the Times to run.
I'm no professional journalist, I know. But seems to me the outline of a straight-news story on this conflict would be a no-brainer and read something like this:
I NYU is considering plans for a new building that would demolish the Provincetown Playhouse.
II This upsets people because...
a) its significance to US theatre history and Off Broadway
b) yet another encroachment by the University on the character and history of Greenwich Village
III NYU's response: "Nothing to worry about, we're being responsible," etc, etc.
IV Meeting planned. "Only time will tell..." The End.
In other words, since this story has only been reported in the community paper The Villager, and on a couple of websites and blogs, doesn't it behoove the Times--in their first piece about this--to lay out the story in this Journalism 101 way?
Instead we get a lot of Part III (NYU's defense) up front. That is, before the argument against has even been fully voiced.
Also--not one theatre artist is interviewed or quoted for the piece. For a statement on the significance of the Playhouse they go not to a theatre historian or O'Neill literary scholar,but to the head of the Merchants House Museum, another old building in the neighborhood, that luckily has been preserved. (And, by the way, wouldn't the Provincetown--if nothing else--make at least a nice museum?)
Toward the end they finally get to an artist, the head of a Yale-based "Playwrights Theatre " group that NYU periodically allows to stage readings at the Provincetown. Hardly critical he has only respectful non-committal words about the university.
Meanwhile, such theatre luminaries as Robert Brustein have already gone on record. I wonder what Edward Albee would say, whose Zoo Story received its legendary US premiere there in 1959. How about an O'Neill biographer? Or an actor. Anyone???
Also unexamined is NYU's argument that the new theatre they plan to replace it with (as part of the overall enlarged complex) would somehow be more like the Provincetown than the Provincetown!
“I would not be taking down a building that had any architectural merit,” [architect Morris Adjmi] said. The new design, he added, “looks more similar to what was there than when it was renovated in the 1940s.”So is what's being proposed a "recreation"? A replica? Not the Provincetown but an incredible simulation?
You know that feeling you get in some "heritage" museums or old home where you expect everything to be authentic, but there's a little tag that says, "historical replica"? And how your heart sinks? Well that's what I imagine theatre-struck youngsters saying in the future as they stroll around Washington Square Park and walk past what they thought to be historic.
Look--I know full well that the building currently standing at 133 MacDougal has had heavy "work" since the glory days of O'Neill. And as the Times tells us, it can't be landmarked because the NY Landmarks Commission deems it void of “historical and architectural integrity." And I also know that as a functioning theatre space it is cramped, old, and almost unusable for fully professional public performances (at least according to fire codes).
But to me these lacking qualities almost make it more urgent that we preserve it. To step inside this humble, cozy 170-seater, and to realize that The Emperor Jones was originally staged here--on this tiny stage!--is to be reminded how down to earth and basic much of our great theatre has always been. As unimpressive as the old house is to some, it still can inspire future generations, though its living historical memory.
Once you take down the building--no matter what memorial is put in its place--part of that memory goes with it. Inevitable, you say? Hardly. It's just a question of priorities.