The Off-Broadway Kaufman Theatre on 42nd Street was sold in September to Cherry Lane Theatre owner Angelina Fiordellisi, an actress-turned producer whose programming goal at the 93-seat house is to mix new artists' work with her own commercial projects and work by nonprofit renters.
The acquisition from the family of the late Martin R. Kaufman, the theatre's namesake, is part of a larger plan by Fiordellisi to "support and nurture" an "artist colony" where independents can have a voice.
For example, Fiordellisi revealed to Playbill On-Line Nov. 6, she and Susann Brinkley are starting a nonprofit theatrical venture called The Cherry Lane Alternative, a 60-seat black box next door to the 178-seat Cherry Lane in Greenwich Village. If readings, workshops or intimate stagings are a success at the Alternative, they might, logically, move on to the slightly larger Kaufman.
"I would love [the Kaufman] to be a hotbed for emerging artists," Fiordellisi said, adding that, as a producer, she's been developing "a couple of pieces" on her own.
The Cherry Lane Alternative space is expected to be complete by May, when a mentoring program between established playwrights and newcomers commences. The idea, Fiordellisi said, is to rent out the Cherry Lane at commercial rates to support the nonprofit Alternative venture. *
The Kaufman will be renamed The Seven Sisters in honor of the "incredible" women -- friends and family -- in Fiordellisi's life, she said. The Kaufman name, on the building since 1986, will remain until January 2000 out of respect for Kaufman, who died in 1996.
The theatre is in an 1887 building originally used for residential housing. Between 1923-54 it was the site of the Sleepy Owl Club. Chicago City Limits performed there in the 1960s and '70s. A staging of Jules Feiffer's Carnal Knowledge starring Jon Cryer, Judd Nelson and Justine Bateman also played there a couple of years ago.
The Kaufman, whose lobby is in a musical deco motif, has recently been home to intimate revues and concerts by cabaret artists including Kaye Ballad, Wesla Whitfield, Julie Wilson, Steve Ross, Jo Sullivan Loesser and others.
An arrangement with cabaret presenter Peter Ligeti to stage another season of cabaret work in the spring remains, said Fiordellisi. Pianist Singer Steve Ross is currently performing L'Amour, the Merrier! at the Kaufman through Nov. 22.
Fiordellisi said she has been talking to Signature Theatre Company about offering that troupe space for their 10th anniversary season events in 2000-2001.
At the Cherry Lane, a Chicago production of Beautiful Thing arrives in February.
Producer-theatre owner Fiordellisi occasionally performs, although she was busier in the 1980s and early 1990s. Her goal now is to nurture new work and young artists.
She was in the revival cast of Zorba on Broadway, moving from the chorus to roles of the Widow and the Reader in New York. In a subsequent Zorba tour, the Italian-American actress played The Widow.
She has also appeared regionally in Nunsense, The Gravity of Honey and many other productions. Fiordellisi performed with the semi-professional University of Detroit Theatre Company, where she was a critics' and audience darling in the early 1980s.
She is married to TV producer Matt Williams and has two children who are "just a 10-minute bus ride " from the Kaufman, one of the perks of the midtown location (near 10th Avenue).
For Kaufman Theatre information, call (212) 563-1684.
-- By Kenneth Jones