Opened as the Cherry Lane Playhouse in 1924 by none other than Edna St. Vincent Millay, the Cherry Lane Theater in the West Village has remained cutting edge and fresh even as it ranks among New York City’s most historic performing arts venues. Millay and her colleagues from Provincetown conceived of the Cherry Lane Playhouse as an urban artist’s colony where experimental and risk-taking work could find a home and new audiences.
The Cherry Lane actually started out life as a brewery built in 1836, and was later used as a tobacco warehouse and box factory. Its unusual, flexible structure inspired the early creative directors to experiment with new methods of staging performances: The Downtown Theater movement, The Living Theatre, and Theatre of the Absurd all took root here. Among the literary greats whose early work was staged here are F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Eugene O’Neill, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee, Harold Pinter, Eugene Ionesco, Sam Shepard, and David Mamet.
Today situated just a few blocks away from the loft condominiums and townhouses at The Printing House, the Cherry Lane Theater is New York’s longest continuously running Off-Broadway theater. The Theater established the Cherry Lane Studio program in 1998, which serves as a creative salon for new American plays. In addition, the theater develops and produces a variety of new works through several development programs, including Mentor Project, Solo Fest!, Celebrating Women Playwrights, and Celebrating Black Playwrights, whose productions have included works by Pulitzer award-winners Suzan-Lori Parks and Margo Jefferson, as well as the New York premiere of Renita Martin’s Five Bottles in a Six Pack.
The Theater’s popular “Tongues” reading series is a more informal run of performances by leading actors interpreting the work of emerging and mid-career writers. New York actors such as F. Murray Abraham, Bob Balaban, Jill Clayburgh, Matt Dillon, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ethan Hawke, Judith Ivey, Carol Kane, Anthony LaPaglia, Jason Patrick, Austin Pendleton, Julia Roberts, Mercedes Ruehl, and Jesse Eisenberg have taken part in this quietly outstanding series.
Image courtesy of: Lin Padgham
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