Cherry Lane Theatre

Coordinates: 40°43′52″N 74°00′19″W / 40.731129°N 74.005215°W / 40.731129; -74.005215

Cherry Lane Theatre

Cherry Lane Theatre entrance
Address 38 Commerce Street
City Manhattan, New York City
Architect Cleon Throckmorton (conversion)
Capacity 179 main stage, 60 studio
Opened March 24, 1924

The Cherry Lane Theatre (CLT), located at 38 Commerce Street in the borough of Manhattan, was New York City's oldest, continuously running off-Broadway theater. As of 2010, when its owner and artistic director announced it was closing and the building was to be sold, the Cherry Lane contained a 179-seat main stage and a 60-seat studio.[1]



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, which opened in 1924 with the theatrical presentation Saturday Night, by Richard Fresnell.[2] 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 and produced by the Cherry Lane Players Inc., opening November 17, 1924.[2]

The Living Theatre, Theatre of the Absurd, and the Downtown Theater movement all took root there, and it developed a reputation as a place where aspiring playwrights and emerging voices could showcase their work.

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;[2] Eugene O'Neill, Sean O'Casey, Clifford Odets, W. H. Auden, Gertrude Stein, Luigi Pirandello, and William Saroyan in the 1940s;[3] Samuel Beckett, Pablo Picasso, T. S. Eliot, Jean Anouilh, and Tennessee Williams in the 1950s;[4] Harold Pinter, Eugene Ionesco, 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;[5] and Sam Shepard, Joe Orton and David Mamet in the 1970s and 1980s.[6][7]

Beckett's Happy Days had its world premiere at the Cherry Lane, directed by Alan Schneider, on September 17, 1961.[5]

From February 1985 until suspending operations in October 1986 after almost 19 years, the year-round Light Opera of Manhattan operetta company was in residence at the Cherry Lane.[8]

Angelina Fiordellisi bought the theater and the building in 1996 for $1.7 million, and renovated it for $3 million.[1] That year, Fiordellisi, as artistic director, Susann Brinkley co-founded the Cherry Lane Theatre Company.[9] The following year, Fiordellisi founded the Cherry Lane Alternative.[9]

In 1998, Fiordellisi, Brinkley, and playwright Michael Weller co-founded the company's Mentor Project,[citation needed] 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 showcase production.[citation needed] Participants have included Pulitzer Prize-winners David Auburn, Charles Fuller, Tony Kushner, Marsha Norman, Alfred Uhry, Jules Feiffer, and Wendy Wasserstein, as well as Pulitzer nominees A.R. Gurney, David Henry Hwang (Tony Award, Obie Award), Craig Lucas, Theresa Rebeck, and Obie Award-winners Ed Bullins (three-time winner) 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.[citation needed]

Fiordellisi has founded numerous other programs at the theater, including a Master Class series in 2000.[citation needed]


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, and the long-running Nunsense.

In 2008, the theater mounted the return of two historic one-acts as part of its annual Heritage Series: Edward Albee's The American Dream (first produced at the CLT in 1961 by Richard Barr and Clinton Wilder) and The Sandbox (first produced at CLT in 1962 in a collaboration between producers Richard Barr, Clinton Wilder and playwright Edward Albee). Both starred Judith Ivey, George Bartenieff and Jesse Williams. Actress Myra Carter was forced to withdraw from the production due to illness, and was replaced by actress Lois Markle. The evening was directed by Albee himself on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

The last Cherry Lane production was a 25th-anniversary revival of Nunsense, running June 15 to July 18, 2010.[10]


In September 2010, Fiordellisi announced that the theater would cease productions on its main stage for a least a year to cope with a $250,000 deficit she attributed to a drop in income from government and foundation support, ticket sales, and rental fees. On December 21, 2010, she further announced that she would step down the following year and planned to sell the building that houses the Cherry Lane.[1]

New Era

In August 2011, Angelina Fiordellisi announced that Cherry Lane Theatre had been able to work off almost all of its debt and plans to produce again in 2012.


  1. ^ a b c Lee, Felicia R. "Cherry Lane Theater Artistic Director to Leave and Sell Building", The New York Times, December 21, 2010. Retrieved December 24, 2010. WebCitation archive.
  2. ^ a b c "History: 1924-1929", Cherry Lane Theatre (official site). Retrieved December 24, 2010. WebCitation archive.
  3. ^ "History: 1940-1949", Cherry Lane Theatre
  4. ^ "History: 1950-1959", Cherry Lane Theatre
  5. ^ a b "History: 1960-1969", Cherry Lane Theatre
  6. ^ "History: 1970-1979", Cherry Lane Theatre
  7. ^ "History: 1980-1989", Cherry Lane Theatre
  8. ^ Page, Tim (October 13, 1986). "Music: 'Vagabond King'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-05.  wWebCitation archive.
  9. ^ a b "History: 1990-1999", Cherry Lane Theatre
  10. ^ "History: 2010 and Onward", Cherry Lane Theatre

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