ADV – Leaderboard

Joel Leffert, Diane Tyler, Olivia Killingsworth, and Deanna Henson in "The Jewish King Lear" at the Metropolitan Playhouse in 2018. (Photo by Emily Hewitt)

NYC’s Metropolitan Playhouse to Close After 31 Years

The small company had a historical focus, both in recovering forgotten theatrical treasures and in staging new plays reflecting on the city’s past.

NEW YORK CITY: The Metropolitan Playhouse, which built a reputation for recovering overlooked theatrical treasures and commissioning new works about the city’s history on a small stage upstairs from the Connelly Theater in the East Village, has announced that it will leave its longtime home and suspend production for the foreseeable future. The company staged a total of 31 seasons.

Citing changes in the theatre’s economic and operational foundations, producing artistic director Alex Roe said in a statement, “Metropolitan has accomplished far more than we might have dreamed in these three decades. We have shone a light on scores of forgotten gems of American theatre to reflect on our contemporary culture and premiered hundreds of new works celebrating our neighborhood. Ultimately, we have reached the limits inherent in a company of our small size, and it is time to draw the curtain on a wonderful run.”

Founded in 1993, Metropolitan Playhouse has produced full-scale productions under the Equity Showcase Code, along with workshops, readings, and chamber concerts. It was in 1997 that the company renovated a space in the Cornelia Connelly Center and created the 51-seat, three-quarter thrust theatre where nearly all of its productions have been staged since. 

With its first production of Dion Boucicault’s melodrama The Poor of New York, the company began excavating America’s rich, diverse, and largely overlooked theatrical archive for forgotten gems that would speak to a contemporary audience and reveal the antecedents of contemporary U.S. culture. In 2001, Alex Roe succeeded founding artistic director David Zarko, and introduced three series of new works to the theatre’s growing repertoire: the Alphabet City monologues, solo performances based on interviews with the theatre’s neighbors; the East Village Chronicles, new one-act plays by emerging playwrights inspired by the life and history of the theatre’s East Village neighborhood; and the Living Literature series, new plays and adaptations produced by guest artists and companies celebrating the writing of American authors who worked primarily outside of the theatrical genre. The COVID-19 shutdown of in-person performances inspired creation of the Metropolitan Virtual Playhouse, graphically enhanced online readings of works from the American archive that ran weekly for 15 months from March 2020 through June 2021, and has continued with readings and interviews on an ad hoc basis since.

The Metropolitan Playhouse at the Connelly Center in the East Village.

Altogether, the company brought to light and recognition over 100 largely forgotten American plays from 1787 through to the present, several of which have found new life around the country owing to the notice they received at Metropolitan. The theatre also celebrated the life and history of the neighborhood and its residents in nearly 100 solo performances and over 100 more new one-act plays.

Metropolitan Playhouse was awarded a 2011 Obie grant from The Village Voice and a 2014 Outstanding Performing Arts Group Award from the Victorian Society of New York. The company has also received several Aggie Awards from Gay City News, 20 nominations from the New York Innovative Theatre Awards, (including three winners), five nominations for AUDELCO Viv Awards, and numerous critics’ picks from Backstage and The New York Times.

The Playhouse and Virtual Playhouse are ventures of Parsifal’s Productions, Inc., a nonprofit founded in 1978, which will continue with Roe as producing artistic director. Immediate plans for the company include collaborating with theatre scholars and historians to create an easily accessible online archive of the company’s achievements that will continue bringing contemporary attention to signal works of American theatre. The company is also considering new production and funding models with an eye to future stage and video production in the years to come.

The second floor theater in the Cornelia Connelly Center will, in the near future, become available for short-term rentals offered by the management of the neighboring Connelly Theater.

Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!

ADV – Billboard