Playwrights Horizons, the Manhattan nonprofit devoted to new or recent works, has raised $27 million toward its $32 million capital campaign goal and unveiled details about its new home, set to open in September 2002.
The theatre that provided early canvases for such renowned works as Driving Miss Daisy, Sunday in the Park With George, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, The Heidi Chronicles and more will have a state-of-the-art complex under one roof on 42nd Street. The existing theatre and other buildings are being torn down in summer 2001 to make way for a new development on the same site. Mitchell Kurtz is the architect. The troupe presents at various rented and borrowed theatres in the upcoming 2001-2002 season.
The new, improved Playwrights, 416 W. 42nd Street, will be a five-story building that includes a 198-seat Mainstage (an increase over the recent 141 seats), a flexible 96-seat or 128-seat Studio space (rather than the recent 72-seater), two fifth-floor rehearsal studios that are rentable when not used by Playwrights, a spacious main lobby, plus production, costume, artistic, administrative and Ticket Central box-office spaces.
"Every decision we have made in the planning of the new building and the endowment has been made in accordance with our mission," artistic director Tim Sanford said in an Aug. 1 statement. "For instance, in deciding to expand our two theatres only moderately, we were able to both increase income potential and maintain the intimacy of our performance spaces. This intimacy is essential when exclusively producing new work and launching new writers."
According to an Aug. 1 company announcement, here are some of the new building's features: • The Mainstage: "The entrance to the 198-seat theatre opens onto a seating bank cascading towards the stage. Below the stage is a full-size trap room, configurable for scenery, special effects or an orchestra pit."
• The Facade: "Transparent window-walls from street level to roof offer views into the public spaces throughout the building and from the building back to the city. Illuminated marquee signs energize the street and signal the theatre's entry."
• The Main Lobby: "The main lobby is dominated by a curving ceiling and grand staircase both sweeping upward toward the lobby-overlook and the theatres. An intimate seating bank and concessions-area look towards the stair and banner backdrop."
• The Studio Theater: "The 96-seat theatre, expandable to 128 seats, is intended as a welcoming space, well-equipped for more adventurous new works. Brick, wood and steel define the edges of the space."
A $10 million bequest from the estate of Edith K. Ehrman prompted PH to call the new building The Edith K. Ehrman Building. "Didi" Ehrman died in November 2000. She served on the PH board for many years and was a longtime supporter of the writers-based company.
A $2.5 million gift from The Peter J. Sharp Foundation results in the naming of the Studio Theater — The Peter J. Sharp Theater. Their gift is a combination of capital support and an annual contribution earmarked for Studio works.
A $2.2 million gift from Ford Motor Company — $1.7 million to the capital campaign and $500,000 to education and community outreach — results in the naming of the ground floor main lobby as Ford Motor Company Lobby.
The Board of Trustees of the theatre has raised $5.5 million. Other contributions have come from The New York City Council, The Manhattan Borough President's Office, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The New York State Senate, The New York State Assembly and The Horace Goldsmith Foundation.
PH announced its 2001-2002 season June 29, identifying The Duke, the Atlantic Theater, Theater Three, Theatre Four and the Signature's Peter Norton Space, as venues to be used during the season while a new home base is being constructed.
As previously confirmed, the Fred Alley-James Valcq musical, The Spitfire Grill, already tested at the George Street Playhouse, will open the Playwrights season, at The Duke on 42nd Street, Sept. 7-Oct. 14.
Five world premieres are part of the PH "Mainstage" and "Studio" seasons, spread across a number of rented spaces. Richard Nelson (Madame Melville), Evan Smith and Tom Donaghy (From Above, Northeast Local) will see their new works debut on the Mainstage, and world premieres of works by Billy Aronson and Sarah Schulman will be seen in the Studio Series (generally, devoted to edgier, smaller-cast works in a more intimate space).
The Playwrights staging of The Spitfire Grill, based on the film of the same name, is bittersweet. Co-librettist and lyricist Fred Alley died earlier this year at the age of 36 due to an undiagnosed heart ailment. He shared book credit with composer Valcq, who wrote the music. David Saint directs the staging, as he did at the George Street Playhouse in 2000 2001. The musical received the 2001 Richard Rodgers Production Award. Official opening is Oct. 2.
The musical follows "Percy Talbott, a young woman with an uncertain past...[who] becomes a resident of tiny Gilead, WI," where "the town welcomes her with suspicion and distrust. Determined to start anew, Percy soon devises a scheme to breathe life into the dying backwater county and to bring solace to a grieving mother."
Following the New York premiere of The Spitfire Grill, the second Mainstage offering will be the world premiere of Psych, billed as "a wicked new comedy" by Evan Smith, whose The Uneasy Chair debuted at PH in 1998-99. Directed by Jim Simpson, previews begin Nov. 24 at The Peter Norton Space, home of the Signature Theatre Company, 555 W. 42nd St. Opening is Dec. 18. Performances continue to Dec. 30.
In the play, "Sunny, a part-time dominatrix and psychology grad student" is "desperate for acceptance" and "attempts to win friends and ingratiate herself" but it leads "only to obsession, paranoia, and close professional scrutiny," according to the season announcement. "Is everyone out to get Sunny Goldfarb — or is it all in her head? What's normal behavior when everyone seems to be analyzing your motives?"
Richard Nelson's Franny's Way gets its world premiere on the Mainstage, directed by the author, whose Goodnight Children, Everywhere and James Joyce's The Dead were staged by PH. Performances begin March 8, 2002, at the Atlantic Theater, 336 W. 20th Street. Set in Greenwich Village in 1957, the play offers "two teenage sisters from the country...visiting their married cousin in the city. Soon these three young women are off on their own private missions involving love, a forgotten child, and a lost mother." Opening is April 2, with performances continuing to April 14.
The Mainstage season ends with Gerald Gutierrez (The Heiress, A Delicate Balance) directing the world premiere of Tom Donaghy's Boys and Girls, beginning May 3 at The Duke. Opening is May 28, with performances continuing to June 9.
"Seeking a male role model for their young son, lesbian professionals Bev and Shelly turn to Reed, their good friend and sperm donor, who is in the process of reuniting with Jason, his ex," according to the Boys and Girls announcement. "But when the seemingly altruistic plan becomes an emotional minefield, the ghosts of past dalliances and present day foibles prove more than the four friends can handle."
The Studio Theater Series, entering its 14th season, "provides playwrights, composers and lyricists the opportunity to develop their newest, and often boldest, work."
The 2001-2002 Studio Series offers the world premiere of Light Years by Billy Aronson. Directed by Jamie Richards, previews begin Oct. 11 at Theater Three, 311 West 43rd Street. "Navigating the seemingly infinite time and space between freshman and senior years," the synopsis says, "four young friends check in, break up, fit in, stand out, stay cool, drop out, and go nuts. A tender, frantic, heartbreaking ode to the college years, when you're only as good as your course cards, and identity is just a state of mind."
The play was originally presented as a one-act in Ensemble Studio Theatre's Marathon 2000, where Aronson is a member. His The Art Room was staged by Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, DC.
The second Studio production is the world premiere of Sarah Schulman's Carson McCullers, about the author, directed by Marion McClinton. Co-produced with Women's Project & Productions, the play will begin previews on Jan. 10, 2002, at Theater Four, 424 West 55th Street.
"Weathering a rocky marriage, pervasive small-mindedness, and unrequited love, Lula Mae Carson found success as one of the most renowned playwright-novelists of the 20th century," according to the announcement. The biographical play "is an epic investigation into one woman's fascinating, tumultuous life, a coming-of-age shaped, destroyed and rejuvenated by the very souls that surrounded her."
Carson McCullers opens Jan. 20, 2002, and continues to Feb 3. Schulman's work has been seen at La Mama, Westbeth, Here! and The Performing Garage. She is currently developing seven plays and is a 2001 Guggenheim Fellow in Playwriting. Director McClinton staged August Wilson's King Hedley II and the PH Studio production of Kia Corthron's Breath, Boom.
Subscriptions to Playwrights Horizons' 2001-2002 season are now available. For information, call (212) 279-4200 or visit the website at www.playwrightshorizons.org.
— By Kenneth Jones