The New York theatre world's best known and best loved purveyor of plays, biographies, and all published works theatrical, The Drama Book Shop, will make its long-planned move to a new, roomier location at the end of November. The institution's last day at its present address, 723 Seventh Avenue between 48th and 49th streets, is Nov. 29 (the store will be open for a full day of business that day). It will reopen after a brief hiatus on Dec. 3 at 250 W. 40th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues.
For more than 20 years, theatre artists, critics, academics and enthusiasts have been well acquainted with the store's nondescript Seventh Avenue entrance (next to a strip joint), the very slow elevator that takes patrons to the book shop's second-floor digs, the knowledgeable staff and the cramped quarters, in which every inch of wall space is covered with plays and theatre-related works of history, theory and criticism.
The shop is owned by Rozanne Seelen and was run by her and her husband, Arthur, until the latter died in 2000. The two bought the concern in 1958. As with many another Times Square business, skyrocketing Midtown rents drove Ms. Seelan to find another location. (For a while, a Brooklyn space was considered.)
There will be no more slow elevators for The Drama Book Shop after Dec. 3. The new rooms on W. 40th will include a ground floor entrance and boast two floors and a 60-seat theatre, to be used to readings and presentations (always a difficult proposition in the current locale).
* Arthur Seelen, the actor turned store owner whose Drama Book Shop in Manhattan is ground zero for those in search of plays and theatrical references, died Feb. 7, 2000, after an illness.
Mr. Seelen was 76 and died in his home in Manhattan, according to a book store manager.
Mr. Seelen, who was known to attend the theatre several times a month with his wife, who survives him, was friendly with such industry people as actor Hal Holbrook and playwrights Robert Anderson and Michael Weller, who were no strangers to the shop.
As an actor, the Brooklyn-born Mr. Seelen (originally Seelenfreund) appeared in an Ohio State University production of Watch on the Rhine (where he was a graduate student 1945-46) and made his New York debut as Sebastien DuBois in Deputy of Paris at the Henry Street Playhouse. He performed in a pre-Broadway tryout of The Circus of Dr. Lao in Chicago in 1958 and understudied George C. Scott (and went on a few times) in Broadway's The Wall in 1960. He also performed in many stock stagings, from western New York to New Hampshire, and on TV presentations in the 1940s and 1950s, once playing Dromio of Ephesus in a CBS production of The Comedy of Errors (1948). He had been a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Actors' Equity Association.
At The Drama Book Shop, Mr. Seelen maintained a well-informed staff, and believed in the sort of personal service associated with boutiques of long ago.
"His big thrust was not letting people leave the store without more information than they came in with," said Sasha Domnitz, a Drama Book Shop manager. "He insisted we put information in their hands...where they could find it if they couldn't find it here. He never liked us to say, 'No, that's not possible.'"
—By Robert Simonson
and Kenneth Jones