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A CurtainUp Feature

The Other Atlantic
By Elyse Sommer

A recent study conducted by the League of American Theaters and Producers proved to be more confirmation than revelation. Broadway audiences come largely from outside the city and its suburbs, Tourists' theatrical diet leans heavily towards musicals, and with the ever rising cost of tickets, people rely on critics and word of mouth in deciding what to see.

A similar study of Off and Off-Off-Broadway theater attendance would find tourists and out-of-towners playing a much less important role. While some Off-Broadway theaters have become decidedly high profile, with ticket prices also on the upswing, many theater companies offer interesting new plays with top caliber performers and creative teams for under $25. People attending these plays are much more likely to be open to untested work about which they know about as much as will fit on a promotional postcard.

Most of these bargain-priced productions (and there are more of them than most people realize) run for just two or three weeks and in venues with limited seating capacity. Therefore theater goers hear about them largely though putting their names on mailing lists geared to adventurous audiences. While The New York Times' new Friday listings format eliminates inclusion of such productions, print media like Time Out and the Village Voice and on-line as in CurtainUp's Off-Broadway listings, and the etcetera news page's Short Term listings remain good sources for learning about upcoming events.

One of the more exciting additions to the affordable theater scene, is the Atlantic Theater's Other Stage, a small black box upstairs space named Atlantic453 for its address in Chelsea's Far West -- 453 W. 16th St. (9/10 Avenues). Each of the plays produced so far have had at least some names to pique audience curiosity attached to them.

The Hiding Place, which inaugurated the space, was written by Jeff Whitty, who wrote the book for the hit puppet musical, AvenueQ. Will Frears, a much admired young director, helmed Jessica Goldberg's Get What You Need and when one of CurtainUp's critics, Jerry Weinstein, "stumbled across by serendipidity" he told me was one of the best things he'd seen all season.

It was Jerry's enthusiasm about Get What You Need that prompted me to go and see the current play, Arrangements which earned the prestigious 2004 Weissberger Award for its author Ken Weitzman. While many companies whose aim is to put new, innovative plays before the public welcome reviews, the only critics at Atlantic453 are the audience members. The reason behind the "no press " rule is, according to a program note, " to allow these plays to retain the greatest number of options for a future life either in New York or around the country."

I don't think I'm overstepping the no review boundaries when I tell you that Arrangements, which runs through January 30th, has been mounted with a terrific 6-member cast and design team. Like the Whitty play it's directed by the Atlantic Theater's own Director of New Play Development, Christian Parker.

The pivotal character is played by Ben Walker, the charismatic young actor who portrayed the 19-year-old Alfred Kinsey in the hit film about the famous sex researcher. Julia Murney, slated to be in the new Broadway musical about John Lennon, plays one of the two at odds with each other sisters; while Katy Grenfell, another actress with Broadway credentials (as Tracy Turnblatt's understudy in Hairspray and one of the girls in The Life) plays her needy older sister.

Stephen Kunken, whose work I've admired both as a featured player (The Story at the Public Theatre, Fabulation at Playwrights Horizon ) and star (The Journals of Mihail Sebastian at Primary Stages), portrays one of two deliciously obsessive male characters. The other is played by another well-credentialed actor, Christopher Duva (The Elephant Man, How I Learned to Drive).

In a season that saw Eve Ensler obsessing about her tummy on Broadway in the short-lived The Good Body and with Neil La Bute's Fat Pig, a sold-out hit at the Lucille Lortel, Mr. Weitzman's black comedy or "tale of obsession and consumption " adds yet another take on this subject.

The performances at Atlantic453 are Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.Tickets at $20 for the current and future productions can be ordered by calling 212-691-5919, x123. To keep abreast with all the Atlantic Theater Company's activities, bookmark their website:

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