From 1918 to 1929, it was the home to Eugene O'Neill's legendary Provincetown Players. In 1960, it played host to the American premieres of Albee's The Zoo Story and Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape. And, since 1992, it has been dark and dormant. But on Thursday, April 23, the historic Provincetown Playhouse, at 133 MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, will be back in business, courtesy of a $900,000 facelift financed by the building's owner, New York University.
The refurbished theatre's inaugural production will be Lowell Swortzell's Young Eugene a drama which takes place on the opening night of O'Neill''s The Emperor Jones -- a play which opened at the very same theatre in 1920. Swortzell is a professor of educational theatre at NYU. His play will be the first the theatre will has seen since A Terrible Beauty closed after five performances in 1992.
The new space is a far cry from the dilapidated, deteriorating theatre which housed Charles Busch's Vampire Lesbians of Sodom for many years. When the playhouse closed, few aspects of the building were up to New York fire and building codes. In fact, a tree in a neighboring courtyard had been siphoning water into the building's basement for some time. Much of the renovation's cost went into digging out a new foundation and pouring concrete. The structure's wiring and ventilation systems have also been brought up to code, and the theatre is now wheelchair accessible.
According to Josh Plaut, spokesman for the School of Education, which oversaw the restoration, the former stage was made up of several platforms cobbled together. The new playing area has a base of concrete and steel, overlaid with a wooden surface. Illuminating the stage are more than 100 lights.
Playbill On-Line toured the space April 22. The auditorium features a new carpet sporting a muted blue, gold, rust, and burgundy pattern. The ornate metal frames and the wooden armrests of the theatre's 132 chairs are original, but the seats have been reupholstered with burgundy fabric.
Cast members of former productions had to reach the playhouse's lower level by way of a ladder -- a remnant, perhaps, of the building previous life as a stable. A new concrete staircase has been installed at the back of the building, leading down to a medium-sized rehearsal space, two dressing rooms, a storage room, and the original restrooms, one wheelchair accessible and both renovated.
Plaut said a smallish room to the right off the lobby would be home to a permanent historical display on O'Neill, which is currently being put together.
Young Eugene, which runs through May 2, is a venture of the university's Educational Theatre Program, which has for many years exposed young audiences to theatre through special productions and workshops. Those shows will now be done at the Provincetown. The next play to use the space will be Refreshment of the Spirit by Anne Washburn, a student of the Tisch School for the Arts's graduate writing program. Washburn's play won the program's first Rita and Burton Goldberg Playwriting Award, netting her $10,000 and the Provincetown showcase. The play was selected by a panel composed of Robert Anderson, Gary Garrison, John Guare, Tina Howe, Janet Neipris, Carol Rocamora, Alfred Uhry, Wendy Wasserstein and Richard Wesley. It will be performed May 7-10.
During the summer months when NYU is not using the playhouse, the Playwrights Theatre, a local group, will stage productions of O'Neill and O'Neill related plays. The university's goal, said Plaut, is to have something happening at the theatre at all times. The playhouse, he added, will never be used as a lecture hall or classroom.
For information on Young Eugene, call (212) 998-5867.
-- By Robert Simonson