Cherry Lane Theatre
|Address||38 Commerce Street|
Manhattan, New York City
|Operator||Lucille Lortel Theatre Foundation|
|Capacity||179 main stage, 60 studio|
|Opened||March 24, 1924|
|Architect||Cleon Throckmorton (conversion)|
The Cherry Lane Theatre, located at 38 Commerce Street between Barrow and Bedford Streets in the West Village neighborhood of Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City, is the city's oldest continuously running off-Broadway theater. The Cherry Lane contains a 179-seat main stage and a 60-seat studio.
The building was constructed as a farm silo in 1817, and also served as a tobacco warehouse and box factory before Edna St. Vincent Millay and other members of the Provincetown Players converted the structure into a theater they christened the Cherry Lane Playhouse. It opened in 1924 with the theatrical presentation Saturday Night, by Richard Fresnell. This was followed by the plays The Man Who Ate Popmack, by W. J. Turner, directed by Reginald Travers, on March 24, 1924; and The Way of the World by William Congreve, produced by the Cherry Lane Players Inc., opening November 17, 1924. The theatre received a significant makeover in 1954 when it acquired much of the expensive furnishings sold off by Rockefeller Center's failing Center Theatre.
The Cherry Lane Theatre has long been a home for nontraditional and experimental works. Particularly during the 1950s and '60s, it hosted many avant garde performances that were identified with the counterculture. It regularly staged works by playwrights associated with the Theatre of the Absurd, including one of the first productions of Samuel Beckett's Endgame in 1957. The modernist stage company The Living Theatre was in residence in 1951 and 1952, performing rarities like Pablo Picasso's Desire Caught by the Tail. Occasionally the theatre even hosted musical performances, providing a venue for Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger long before their ascensions to fame.
A succession of major American plays streamed out of the small edifice, by writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, and Elmer Rice in the 1920s; Eugene O'Neill, Seán O'Casey, Clifford Odets, W. H. Auden, Gertrude Stein, Luigi Pirandello, and William Saroyan in the 1940s; Samuel Beckett, Pablo Picasso, T. S. Eliot, Jean Anouilh, and Tennessee Williams in the 1950s; Harold Pinter, LeRoi Jones, Eugène Ionesco, Terrence McNally, Lanford Wilson, and Lorraine Hansberry, in the 1960s, as well as Edward Albee, staging a large number of his plays; and Sam Shepard, Joe Orton and David Mamet in the 1970s and 1980s.
Beckett's Happy Days had its world premiere at the Cherry Lane, directed by Alan Schneider, on September 17, 1961.
Angelina Fiordellisi bought the theater and the building in 1996 for $1.7 million, and renovated it for $3 million. That year, artistic director Fiordellisi and Susann Brinkley co-founded the Cherry Lane Theatre Company. The following year, Fiordellisi founded the Cherry Lane Alternative.
In 1998, Fiordellisi, Brinkley, and playwright Michael Weller co-founded the company's Mentor Project, which matches established dramatists with aspiring playwrights in one-to-one mentoring relationships. Each mentor works with a playwright to perfect a single work during the season-long process, which culminates in a production. Participants have included Pulitzer Prize-winners David Auburn, Charles Fuller, Tony Kushner, Marsha Norman, Alfred Uhry, Jules Feiffer, and Wendy Wasserstein; Pulitzer nominees A.R. Gurney, David Henry Hwang, Craig Lucas, and Theresa Rebeck; and Obie Award winners Ed Bullins and Lynn Nottage, as mentors. From the outset, Edward Albee has participated as the Mentor's Mentor by attending Project readings and performances and conducting a yearly Master Class.
Fiordellisi has founded numerous other programs at the theater, including a Master Class series in 2000. In 2006, the theater was honored with a Village Award by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
Productions staged at the Cherry Lane include The Rimers of Eldritch, Claudia Shear's Blown Sideways Through Life, Fortune's Fool with Alan Bates and Frank Langella, The Sum of Us with Tony Goldwyn, the Richard Maltby, Jr./David Shire musical Closer Than Ever, Sam Shepard's True West, Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Edward Albee's The Zoo Story, John-Michael Tebelak's and Stephen Schwartz's Godspell, Paul Osborn's Morning's at Seven, Laura Pedersen's The Brightness of Heaven (later changed to For Heaven's Sake!) the long-running Nunsense and David Rimmer's Album, a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
The last Cherry Lane production was a 25th-anniversary revival of Nunsense, running June 15 to July 18, 2010.
In August 2011, Angelina Fiordellisi announced that Cherry Lane Theatre had been able to work off almost all of its debt, and planned to produce again in 2012. Fiordellisi had received hundreds of phone calls and emails and visits from people who were concerned to hear that she was leaving and that the theatre was for sale, and when those people started referring rentals to Cherry Lane, she was able to look ahead and feel more secure about the theatre's financial future.
- Lee, Felicia R. (December 21, 2010) "Cherry Lane Theater Artistic Director to Leave and Sell Building", The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2010. WebCitation archive.
- "History: 1924-1929", Cherry Lane Theatre (official site). Retrieved December 24, 2010. WebCitation archive.
- Staff (May 11, 1954). "'Village' Theatre Gets Uptown Look; Cherry Lane Salvages Shiny Rockefeller Center Fittings in Path of Wreckers". The New York Times. p. 31. Retrieved February 19, 2017.
- Misiroglu, Gina (2015). American Countercultures: An Encyclopedia of Nonconformists, Alternative Lifestyles, and Radical Ideas in U.S. History. Routledge. p. 485. ISBN 1317477286.
- "History: 1940-1949" Archived August 31, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Cherry Lane Theatre
- "History: 1950-1959", Cherry Lane Theatre
- "History: 1960-1969", Cherry Lane Theatre
- "History: 1970-1979", Cherry Lane Theatre
- "History: 1980-1989", Cherry Lane Theatre
- "History: 1990-1999", Cherry Lane Theatre
-  Tallmer, Jerry. “In training to train words and Wisteria”. The Villager. May 2, 2007.
- "Past Village Award Winners". GVSHP.org. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- History: 2010 and Onward Archived July 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, Cherry Lane Theatre
- Jones, Kenneth (August 25, 2011) "Cherry Lane Theatre Will Not Be Sold; Director Encouraged by Changes" Playbill.com Archived September 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
- Healy, Patrick (August 25, 2011) "New Revenue and Better Management Help Cherry Lane Theater" The New York Times
- "Mentor Project | Programs". Cherry Lane Theatre. Retrieved 2012-11-25.
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