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Off Broadway

Gone But Not Forgotten Theatres and Theatre Companies Part 5

Gone But Not Forgotten Theatres and Theatre Companies Part 5

In part one we discussed The Pearl  Co., then WPA and Circle Rep. In part three The Hudson Guild Theatre and Circle in the Square and in part 4 The American Place Theatre and The Women’s Project.

American Jewish Theatre was founded by Stanley Brechner in the YMHA in the Upper East Side, then moved to the basement theatre in W. 26th St. below a supermarket, which was the original home of the Roundabout. Brechner did Israel Horovitz’s Fountain Pen Trilogy in the Upper East Side space and, in W. 26th St., exemplary revivals of musicals such as Milk And Honey, Rags and The Rothschilds, as well as a new musical called A Fine And Private Place (another one I got Samuel French to acquire), which should have moved but didn’t, and fine new plays such as Born Guilty by Ari Roth (who later founded Theatre J in Washington, D.C., a Jewish Theatre founded by former American Place Theatre Literary Manager Martin Blank). At the end, Brechner could only afford to do projects which came with money attached (a disturbing off Broadway trend which I will discuss in another chapter), usually a guaranteed harbinger of the end, finally folding and absconding to Columbia with whatever money he had left (which, I suspect, was from subscriptions as well as grants). 

Christiane Noll and Glenn Seven Allen
in A Fine & Private Place
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)

For many years, there was a fine off Broadway theatre company, the Lambs Theatre Co., run by Carolyn Rossi Copeland, which operated out of the Lambs Club in W. 44th Street. They produced shows in the smaller of two spaces, on the ground floor, and rented out the larger one upstairs for commercial productions. Their biggest hit in the downstairs theatre was the musical Smoke On The Mountain I had seen this at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton during its last week and called Carolyn and asked her to see it, as generally she did shows with a religious slant and this one was about a gospel group, The Sanders Family Singers, performing at a Southern Baptist church, much to the chagrin of the more conservative members but enthusiastically supported by the pastor. Carolyn couldn’t make it out to the McCarter to see it there, but she invited the cast to perform it for her at the Lambs and optioned it on the spot. It had a long run there. The upstairs theatre was an exquisite space designed by Stanford White. Some of its memorable hits were James Sherman’s Beau Jest, produced by Arthur Cantor and Carol Ostrow, who also produced Eileen Atkins in a one-woman show based on Virginia Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own. Tina Howe’s Painting Churches, starring Marian Seldes in one of her most memorable performances, Donald Madden and Elizabeth McGovern, originally produced by Second Stage in one of the old Theatre Row Theatres, transferred there for a successful commercial run. Incredibly, this beautiful theatre was ripped out several years ago. What an outrage! The Lambs Theatre Co. was long gone by that time.

Elizabeth McGovern and George N. Martin in Painting Churches Photo by Martha Swope

Jewish Rep was started by Ran Avni in a small space in the 14th St. YMHA, where it operated for several years before moving to Playhouse 91 in the YMHA on the Upper East Side (which doesn’t appear to be used for theatre anymore). I saw many memorable plays and musicals produced by Jewish Rep at the WHMA and at Playhouse 91, such as Susan Sandler’s Crossing Delancey (another gem I landed for Samuel French), directed by Joan Micklin Silver, which became a successful film directed by Ms. Silver, starring Amy Irving and Peter Riegert, and the musical Theda Bara And The Frontier Rabbi, directed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, which deserved a commercial transfer but didn’t get it. Then, several years ago, Jewish Rep disappeared. I still don’t know what happened to it.

Off Broadway

For over thirty years, Lawrence Harbison was in charge of new play acquisition for Samuel French, Inc., during which time he was responsible for the publication of hundreds of plays, by new playwrights such as Jane Martin, Don Nigro, Tina Howe, Theresa Rebeck, William Mastrosimone, Charles Fuller and Ken Ludwig among many others; and the acquisition of musicals such as Smoke on the Mountain, A…My Name Is Alice and Little Shop of Horrors. He has edited over 100 anthologies for Smith and Kraus, Inc. For Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, he has edited several monologue, full length, 10-minute and 5-minute play anthologies. Currently, he is editing books solely for Applause. He has set up a new division for Applause to publish and license individual full length plays, as well as the World Premiere Club. His column, “On the Aisle with Larry,” appeared in the Chelsea Clinton News and the Westsider for several years and then moved to www.smithandkraus.com. In December of 2019, it began running on the Applause website, www.applausebooks.com. It also appears on his blog at www.playfixer.com and on www.doollee.com, the international playwrights database. He also writes occasional columns for Theatre Record, a London-based magazine. He was a member for many years of two NYC press organizations, the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama Desk, and served on the Drama Desk Awards Nominating Committee for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons. He works with individual playwrights to help them develop their plays (see his website, www.playfixer.com). He has also served as literary manager or literary consultant for several theatres. He taught playwriting in the Theatre Dept. of the University of Michigan in the winter semester of 2016. He holds a B.A. from Kenyon College and an M.A. from the University of Michigan. His book, How I Did It: Establishing a Playwriting Career, a collection of interviews with playwrights, was published by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books in March, 2015. His latest anthologies of monologues and 10-minute plays were published in December, 2019 by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books.

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