After 27 years, Off-Broadway's Circle Repertory Theatre apparently has closed the circle permanently.
Beaten down by a $1 million deficit and punished with poor reviews for such recent shows as 900 Oneonta and The Size Of The World, Circle Repertory Theatre has ceased to exist as an entity.
A call to Circle Rep's offices to confirm their closing -- first reported by Michael Riedel in the New York Daily News -- led simply to a Nynex message that the phone had been disconnected.
When former artistic director Tanya Berezin left, the company was in debt but excited by the prospect of Austin Pendleton and Lynn Thigpen co-running the theatre. Thigpen bowed out of the project, leaving Pendleton, a longtime actor, director and budding playwright (Booth, Uncle Bob), to run the sinking ship.
By then, Circle Rep lost its trademark performance home at 99 7th Avenue South and was using the downtown Circle In The Square performance space on Bleecker Street. Ironically, Circle in the Square, the similarly-named another cornerstone of NY's Off-Broadway, is also threatened by money problems. By the time of 900 Oneonta last month, Circle Rep was using the 6th floor of a space at 632 Broadway.
Circle Repertory is best known for producing the plays of its co-founder Lanford Wilson (other founder Marshall W. Mason would usually direct), many of which came to Broadway: Burn This and the Pulitzer-winning Talley's Folly.
The theatre took some critical hits in the early 1980's for their decision to pursue an ethos of "lyric naturalism" -- even when the material wasn't right for that style. By the time they moved out of that lengthy phase, things were already running downhill, despite occasional successes such as Craig Lucas' Prelude To A Kiss and Sam Shepard's Fool For Love.
Even in the difficult recent years, Circle Rep would come up with at least one extraordinary work per season, be it Paula Vogel's poignant fantasy, The Baltimore Waltz, William S. Leavengood's funny and intense sibling drama, Florida Crackers, or Keith Curran's heartbreaking study of gender in society, Walking The Dead.
-- By David Lefkowitz