Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cleveland Play House: Open [Play] House

Cleveland Play House logo on the
Allen Theater Doors (more pics)
While it hasn't quite culminated -- the Play House's administrative offices won't make the move until October, and the new stages won't open until some time in the not-to-distant future -- the Cleveland Play House hit the climax of the massive move from the 8500 Euclid Complex to the Hip new Allen at PlayhouseSquare

Though the festivities kicked off at 4:30 both Rachel and I have "real jobs"* so, even with me sneaking out of the office a bit early we didn't make it downtown until a bit after 5:30... Walking through the Euclid Avenue doors there was an excited din; the largely untouched promenade gives way to the beautiful rotunda.

Carpeted but otherwise untouched the rotunda marked one of my favorite spaces in the PlayhouseSquare complex, but the removal of the back Hanna's back wall gives the space a much less siloesque and much more open feeling than before. While the acoustics in the center of the rotunda are still a bit funky, the carpeting has done wonders.

Passing through the rotunda the carpet continues into the new lobby with two glass-enclosed event spaces flanking the entrances to the house. Before you get there though a dimly lit lobby (the ceiling above is the underside of the Allen's original balcony which has been mothballed for the time being). Tonight a jazzy ensemble was assembled in the corner providing light music for the several-hundred deep crowd and it certainly had that relaxed lounge feeling. Hip furniture rounds that out, though the furniture did seem a bit sparse.

Entering the theater, the transformation from a 2,500-seat combination bowling alley and drab shoebox is striking to 500-seat modern theater is striking. While we weren't allowed to take the seats for a test drive, by their looks alone they should be infinitely more inviting than 8500's fabric-covered wood. Also of note, cup holders throughout the auditorium located on the seat backs. It is unclear if iced beverages will be permitted (one hopes not), but food is will not be open -- lest you be the one stuck next to someone crunching on potato chips while the drama unfolds.

I am withholding judgement on the efficacy of the metal scrim on the side walls: It looks cool, but as lit for the open house it was much harder to perceive the details of the original walls that I expected. Making our way back stage, the view from midstage into the house really emphasises the intimacy of space. Comparatively speaking, I think the view from high school's 299-seat Performing Arts Center main stage (built 1998) was less intimate-- but intimate does not equate to crowded.

The back stage area in general and the wings in particular are immense -- the proscenium opening has been narrowed to the great advantage of anyone working back stage. Further back stage you find the Roe Green Room, a playful combination of the theatrical staple -- the Green Room -- and the benefactor who has been dubbed by The Plain Dealer as "Fairy Godmother to the Arts", Ms. Roe Green. Along the same corridor you find an assortment of dressing rooms; these don't seem to have been touched by the renovation.

And there the tour ends--returning to the lobby, the din has, if anything increased, and the tour line is nearly out the doors. One of these days I hope to sneak into the booth, onto the catwalks and/or into the dimmer room -- the parts of the theater that most intrigue me but never seem to be included in tours.

"I seem to be kind of lost--I don't know where I am" I overheard one patron speaking to no one in particular while wandering the lobby with Rachel -- "This is where the back wall used to be" someone answered. "Wait? This all used to be inside the theater." the surprised answer.

I doubt anyone who has been in the Old Allen would recognize the New Allen if brought into the theater blindfolded. And that only means good things.

The inaugural show for CPH's new home, The Life of Galileo begins previews this Friday and runs through October 9th at the Allen Theater, Playhouse Square (Euclid Avenue between East 14th and East 17th Streets).

*-No, an advertising-free blog doesn't generate enough revenue for me to just kick back. It's actually a rather expensive hobby.

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