With the exception of one show, every production presented by the nearly five-year-old Drama Dept. theatre company has been staged in The Greenwich House, a 100-year-old community center located on Barrow Street just off Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village. (June Moon was first seen at the Ohio Theatre.) Now, the troupe hopes to spruce up the building and make it its permanent home.
Drama Dept. managing director Mike Rosenberg told Playbill On-Line that the company has entered into an agreement with the Greenwich House in which the theatre will relocate its offices to the center in March and initiate a $3 million dollar renovation of the 1916 building's theatre, lobby and edifice.
"When The Torchbearers closes, we will move our offices down to the Greenwich House," said Rosenberg, referring to the Drama Dept. revival of the George Kelly play, which begins Feb. 11 and runs through March 4. The company will set up temporary headquarters in the lobby, while work is done on the auditorium. A complete restoration of the lobby and then the exterior will follow.
"We're creating a pretty neat partnership with the Greenwich House," said Rosenberg. As the Drama Dept. was casting about for a permanent theatre, they learned that Greenwich House was hoping to redo their home base in anticipation of the organization's centenary in 2002. In exchange for residence in the building and a break on the rent, the ensemble offered to take over fund-raising efforts for the renovation. Greenwich House agreed.
The troupe plans to raise half of the $3 million from two or three individual donors and then match that amount through a fund-raising campaign. Among the planned improvements to the theatre will be a higher ceiling to better accommodate production design elements, new chairs (though they will remain unfixed) and a new, quieter air-conditioning system. Ancient dimmer boards will be brought up to code to eliminate the blown circuits which have sometimes halted performances. And the present single dressing room will be replaced by two changing rooms, one for men and one for women. Each will feature showers and bathrooms, bringing them up to Equity standards.
As for the lobby and exterior, the Drama Dept. hopes to return the building to its 1916 glory. The lobby will be opened up, removing office space near the entrance. This will, in turn, reclaim the street view into the lobby through the outside windows, which will also be restored. The new lobby will, furthermore, feature a bar area, an improved box office and a coat check.
The dark, easily missable facade of the Greenwich House will be highlighted by exterior lights and banners.
Rosenberg said he hopes the renovation takes no more than six months, so that the company can be up and producing again in the fall.
A trio of stalwart theatre ladies lead the cast of the Drama Dept.'s upcoming revival of George Kelly's The Torch-Bearers. Joining the previously announced Marian Seldes and Joan Copeland will be Tony winner Faith Prince. The production will begin previews at the Greenwich House Theatre on Feb. 11 for an opening night of Feb. 23 and run through March 4. Novice director and full-time actor, Dylan Baker, will take the helm.
Prince, last seen on the stage in the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Little Me, has been concentrating on her new cabaret career of late. Her solo show, "Leap of Faith," has been seen at the Firebird Cafe and Joe's Pub, among other spaces.
Seldes has been busy of late, appearing, during the past year, in a Carnegie Hall concert reading of Noel Coward's Sail Away, Irish Rep's Dear Liar, and Broadway's Ring Round the Moon.
Copeland's credits include the original production of Arthur Miller's The American Clock, The Extra Man (Obie Award) and, more recently, Over the River and Through the Woods.
Also in the cast are Claire Beckman, Judy Blazer, Ralph Cole Jr., Albert Macklin, Susan Mansur, Don Mayo and Paul Mullins.
Baker's many acting credits include Tartuffe, The Common Pursuit, Eastern Standard, La Bete, Pride's Crossing and That Championship Season. He is an original member of the Drama Dept., as is his wife Becky Ann Baker (June Moon).
George Kelly, born in 1887, flourished in the 1920's and is best known for the oft-revived The Show-Off. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his next play, Craig's Wife, about a fetishistically possessive woman. Kelly began his theatre career as a vaudeville actor and some of his experiences are no doubt reflected in his first play, The Torchbearers, a satire on amateur theatricals.
-- By Robert Simonson