Just as old theatres are said to have ghosts on their catwalks, New York's new Century Center Theatre will open March 16 with demons treading its stage -- Bruce Graham's Minor Demons, that is. Previews began March 4, and though the theatre building's insides were still very much under construction, spokesperson Hugh Hayes said the first preview performance began on-time and went off without a hitch.
The play, which premiered at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre For New Plays in 1991, has since had productions at Long Wharf, Arizona Theatre Company and NY's Playwrights' Preview Productions (March 1996). This commercial mounting (with the same cast/staff as at PPP) is produced by Blake Edwards and Tony Adams (of Victor/Victoria), Frances Hill and Sterling Productions with J.C. Compton and the Century Theatre. Richard Harden directs.
Reed Birney stars in the drama as a high-powered lawyer in recovery. He's thrust back into the limelight when representing a 16-year-old boy accused of murdering a female classmate. Steve Ryan plays the chief of police, a childhood friend and now adversary of the attorney. Also starring are Charlie Hofheimer as the boy and Amelia Marshall as the lawyer's love interest. Birney made his Broadway debut in 1977's Gemini and appeared in Mac Wellman's A Murder of Crows (1992)
Author Graham's Cheap Sentiment played in a co-production of the Philadelphia Festival Theatre For New Plays and George Street Theatre Feb. 1996. Sets for the show are by Patrick Mann, costumes by Alan Michael Smith, lighting by Jeffrey McRoberts, sound/music by Matt Balitsaris.
* Production spokesperson Hugh Hayes (of Cromarty & Co.) called the new, 299-seat theatre at 111 East 15th St., "absolutely gorgeous" and took Playbill On-Line on a brief tour of the space March 3, the day before the first preview of Minor Demons.
Glamour and elegance certainly weren't the most salient features of the Century Center For The Performing Arts when I arrived there on a sleety Monday afternoon. Garbage trucks were hauling bundles of construction trash away, laborers trundled in and out the many front doors with ladders and paint buckets, and the only sign to show this was actually a theatre was a banner emblazoned with the words "Minor Demons" hanging from the second story.
If anything, the activity indoors was more frenzied. Paint thinner fumes and sawdust clouded the air as spokesperson Hayes and I climbed up the left side of the front stairs (we were asked not to use the carpeted part, since that was still only half-glued) to the main floor. Freshly painted walls attested to the enormous amount of work already done, though tarp covered floors, seemingly a zillion workmen, and tools and machinery everywhere showed just how much work lay ahead.
I asked Hayes how the theatre expected to be ready for previews 24 hours later. "We just need the main hall, the box office and the theatre," he replied. The response seemed a lot more reasonable once he opened the door to the main space, the Century Center Theatre. The cozy space, with high rising seats but no balcony, and good sightlines to a stage with a high ceiling, seemed quite finished. Richard Harden, director of Demons, conversed quietly on the well-lit stage with star Reed Birney as the tech people sat in the middle of the theatre and ran lighting cues.
Once out of the relative quiet of the Century Center Theatre it was back to the chaos of the Performing Arts Center. A trip upstairs showed not only a rehearsal room but a large, impressive room with antique-looking architecture and a skylight, which Hayes said would be used for parties and gatherings. Also ideal for gatherings would be a downstairs bar, the wood floor still wet from varnish. A huge, old-style, wooden bar with a mirror behind it dominated the pub-like space. A second, small theatre space upstairs, "The Drawing Room," may be used for readings and workshops.
Designed by 19th century architect Henry Hobson Richardson, the 3-story Italian Renaissance building became the home of the Century Club in 1851. Members included Presidents Cleveland, Taft, Wilson and Roosevelt (both of them), as well as Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling and Robert Benchley.
For tickets ($40) and information on Minor Demons call (212) 239 6200.
--By David Lefkowitz