Last night, looking for a midtown theater, I left a cold, wet, Gothamy street for the warmer, but puzzling interior of 314 West 54th Street. I was off to see Dancer for Money: An Evening of 10-Minute Plays one of which was written by a friend of mine. The address on my ticket lead me to a building bearing two banners: "The Midtown Community Court" and "The American Theater of Actors". What?
I ran into a friend outside and left him to go in and get seats for our group. "It's cool in there," I think he said. "You should check it out." Knowing I was going to a play but reading that I was entering a court, maybe I expected the baroque, wooden interior of an ancient courthouse lending itself easily to a home for the arts. I found nothing of the sort. What I found was much better.
The front door opens onto an oppressively civic hallway of cinder block walls painted white, illuminated by too much cold white fluorescent light with an elevator likely leading to administrative offices you hope you'll never know, bearing subway and neighborhood maps from the Metropolitan Transit Authority. At its end, there is an elevator with an awkward hallway to the right and a small area of many doors and another elevator to the left. The signposts at this crucial intersection? Computer paper framed by Scotch tape intending permanence affixed to various surfaces saying little about theater.
What to do what to do? Having just passed through that blinding cinder block tunnel, the awkward hallway was unappealing, so I headed to the left wondering when this place would start to make sense.
Moments later, the sour aesthetic of modern, public-sector architecture parted, and through a boring doorframe, this exquisite staircase beckoned me to it with silent ballads of public neglect and hymns of private love. My steps and breath slowed. My heart and mind raced. Where did this come from? Who built it? Where are they? Wish I could meet them. Who knows about this? I love this secretive city! Woah, it goes all the way up! Look at that part. And what's down there? Thank you. Thank you Thank you.
I floated in this underwater reverie of confusion, discovery and quiet for many minutes until others came my way, also looking for theater. I called them to me, and once they got there shared this vision with them. Coming up for air, and back in the ordinary world of men, I realized I'd forgotten long ago about finding the theater and made a note to tell you about all this.