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2 theater companies cheer as the open new stages

SHARE 2 theater companies cheer as the open new stages

NEW YORK — Stage actors always seem to get the attention in New York. On Monday, it was the turn of the stages themselves to take a bow.

The Pearl Theatre had a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate moving into its new home near Times Square, while the Atlantic Theater Company reopened its main stage in Chelsea after an $8.3 million renovation.

Atlantic founding members and married couple Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy were on hand to celebrate the company's roomier home, singing every title produced over the Atlantic's 27-year life as Macy strummed a ukulele.

"It's a magnificent theater. New York is the better for it and there's going to be some magic in that place, trust me," Macy said outside the theater. "There's going to be a lot of magic made in those four walls."

The Atlantic, founded in 1985 by David Mamet and several New York University drama graduates, has produced more than 130 plays, including the Tony Award-winning productions of "Spring Awakening" and "The Beauty Queen of Leenane."

Its facelift included the renovation of 6,300 square feet of space containing the 199-seat main stage, the expansion of a 5,100-square-foot basement to create an enlarged lobby with new restrooms, a new box office, improved handicap access, a prop-building workshop, a costume shop and backstage support offices.

"It's like the brand new tree house you get to go into when you're 10 years old and you've been building it all summer with your dad. It's finally finished and you get to go in and sit and have your first cup of tea. That's what today is like. It's pretty fantastic," said Giancarlo Esposito, the "Breaking Bad" and "Homicide: Life on The Streets" star who has been a member for almost 20 years.

The first play to open in the new space will be the New York premiere of "Harper Regan" by Simon Stephens. It stars Atlantic member Mary McCann and officially opens Oct. 10.

The Atlantic moved into its current home — a nineteenth century church in Chelsea — 22 years ago and felt it was time to modernize.

"We never expected we would be here this long," said Neil Pepe, Atlantic's artistic director. "When we realized we were going to be here this long, we wanted to make this beautiful space even better and we wanted to make it more hospitable to the artists, the patrons, the audiences and the community."

The Pearl has signed a 20-year lease on its new 160-seat home on 42nd Street, the same venue recently vacated by the Signature Theatre Company, which moved east along the street toward Times Square.

Since its founding in 1984, the Pearl has bounced around several locations, including New York City Center in Midtown and St. Mark's Place downtown. It kicks off its first show in the new space Oct. 19 with "Figaro," a fresh adaptation of "The Marriage of Figaro" by Charles Morey.

J.R. Sullivan, the Pearl's artistic director, said the move to a solid, high-tech building means the company can now plan for the future, a luxury from its hard-scrabble past when baby monitors were used in the dressing rooms to alert actors about their cues and the actors themselves passed out advertising fliers and took care of the theater's plumbing.

"It's not healthy to be peripatetic," he said. "We can now think ahead to a two- or three-year sequence of plays and let the seasons begin to connect. It can't help but make for a better company."

Managing Director David Roberts said having the company's name in lights finally attached to a building cannot be underestimated. "It's the 29th season, so it's the eve of our 30th birthday. We're coming out of our youth, if you will, and really finding our place in New York."

A benefit performance later of the comic revue "A Thurber Carnival" featured the talents of Jason Butler Harner, Jackie Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Dakin Matthews, McKean, Annette O'Toole, Maryann Plunkett and Jay O. Sanders.

The coincidence of two theater companies celebrating expansions on the same day — in addition to The Public Theater's $40 million revitalization party on Thursday — seems to show the health of the city's off-Broadway community.

Sullivan agreed: "People in the theater are eternal optimists anyway," he said.