Downtown Dramatics III: MCC/The Lucille Lortel Theatre

smokefall-off-broadway
Zachary Quinto in MCC’s production of “Smokefall.” Image via variety.com

When you think of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you think of household names on those infamous gold stars: Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Walt Disney. Tucked away on Christopher Street in New York City, however, is a stretch of pavement called the Playwright’s Sidewalk which sits in front of the Lucille Lortel Theatre. This has similar gold stars, but imprinted with names of those famous for their work on the stage: Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and the eponymous Lucille Lortel.

Lortel was an actress and producer whose life spanned the entirety of the twentieth century — she was born in 1900 and died in 1999. Called the Theatre de Lys until its renaming in 1981, the venue was a 24th anniversary gift from Lucille Lortel’s husband. She produced decades worth of productions, and fostered premieres for new works by David Mamet and Sam Shepard. Now, however, an established yet contemporary theatre company has taken up a temporary residency in the West Village.

The Manhattan Class Company (or as it’s more commonly known, MCC) was founded in 1986 by a group of young collaborators yearning to create their own work, many of whom were New York University drama graduates. Now, it houses a four-show season, constant development of new work, and outreach programs for local students. Many well-known playwrights have passed through MCC’s artistic hands, and its most recent successes have included the Broadway favorite “Hand to God” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Wit.”

As evidenced by these entirely contrasting productions, MCC’s seasons can be quite diverse in content. Its 2015-16 season began with “The Legend of Georgia McBride” by Matthew Lopez, a well-received comedic jaunt about a struggling Elvis impersonator turned successful drag queen. October ushered in “Lost Girls” by John Pollono, a tender examination of the cyclical nature of family, and the predictable unpredictability of youths and their antics. The intricate construction of this play’s plot was impressive, skillfully hiding reveals until the last few moments.

Recently opened at the beginning of February and closing on March 20th is “Smokefall” by Noah Haidle, featuring film favorite Zachary Quinto. Although the cyclical nature of family is similarly addressed in this play, it comes up in a less literal and at times high-brow way. However, the performances in “Smokefall” are mesmerizing, and the script and direction are as smart as they are simplistic. Finally, May will bring the the surely entertaining “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Gynecologic Unit At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Of New York City” by Halley Feiffer (yes, that’s the full title) in which a couple going through a divorce reunite when their mothers become roommates at the cancer center of a hospital.

Currently, MCC is experiencing some growing pains, as its popularity is getting the best of them. Due to rental restrictions at the Lucille Lortel, productions are having limited runs that can’t be extended although they have the potential to. Now, a 25,000 square foot complex is being built on 52nd and 10th Avenue to house their expansion, and MCC is planning to double its annual production load in response. This complex will help develop MCC’s outreach program and house a convertible black box space, which will be much more flexible (literally and figuratively) to the needs of creative teams. It isn’t set to open until 2017, but the future looks bright for MCC, even if this means leaving its cozy home on Christopher Street.

Student rush tickets can be purchased 20 minutes before curtain for $20, cash only. Make sure to bring your NYU ID!

Bonus Fun Fact: MCC hosts an annual Miscast gala in which Broadway stars perform songs from musical roles that they would never, ever be cast in. The YouTube archives of past Miscast galas are fantastic.

For more information, visit www.mcctheater.org.

Emma Gold is a staff columnist for the Highlighter.

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