By Robert Simonson
26 Oct 2012
Question: I recently attended the Off-Broadway play Falling at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. It was my first time in that theatre, and I was surprised to see it had a balcony and what looked like a large backstage, with room for flying in scenery. Can you give me some history of this theatre? —M.R., Glen Cove, NY
Several Off-Broadway theatres have a rich history as Greenwich Village institutions, among them the Cherry Lane Theatre and the Lucille Lortel. The Minetta Lane is not one of them. It is of relatively recent vintage.
The tiny thoroughfare it's named after, however, has certainly played a lengthy role in Village history. It partly follows the path once taken by a stream that ran through the area. The name is derived from the Dutch term "minty kill," which translates to "little stream." For much of its history during the 19th and early-20th centuries, the short street — now prime real estate and considered the epitome of quaintness — was notorious for vice, poverty and crime.
There was no theatre here until 1984. Before construction, explained owner Margaret Cotter, the Minetta Lane Theatre building was a printing company. (Hence the boxy, nondescript edifice.) The theatre's inaugural production was 3 Guys Naked From the Waist Down, a modest hit that ran half a year. Since then, it has been home to quite a few notable shows.
"The theatre has housed critically appraised and successful productions over the years," said Cotter in an email. "Such productions include Balm in Gilead; Other People's Money; Marvin's Room; Eric Bogosian's Pounding Nails in the Floor; Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde; Jeffrey; Marvin's Room; Cowgirls; The Last Five Years; Cookin; Alan Bennett's Talking Heads; My Name is Rachel Corrie; Adding Machine, A Musical; and Garden of Earthly Delights."
Cotter said the reader is wrong about about the stage's roominess. "There is little backstage and wing space and no fly system." However, "There is an orchestra pit and two trap doors on stage."
As the reader points out, the theatre's current attraction is Deanna Jent's Falling, an unsentimental play that explores a family challenged a teenage son whose place on the autism spectrum includes bursts of unexpected violence. It received encouraging reviews.