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).
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.
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.