The Ohio Theatre’s Last Hurrah

08/16/2010 10:59 AM |

Robert Lyons outside the now officially closed Ohio Theatre.
  • Robert Lyons outside the now officially closed Ohio Theatre.

There were so many references and literal examples of things going up in flames during the last production of Robert LyonsNostradamus Predicts the Death of Soho that I half expected Annie Scott (playing the character of Marsha) to not only light her paper wedding gown but also the entire theater on fire. Of course you can’t blame Lyons for having visions of things going up in flames, as Saturday night’s show marked the final curtain call for the Ohio Theater. It will, of course, live again in a different iteration as the Ohio Interrupted in its residency at 3LD, but the Ohio as it has been known over the past few decades is now, officially, no more. The final show has closed and the lease is up at the end of the month.

The last show was a bit of a somber affair. The friend I brought with me commented that he felt a little like he was crashing a funeral, and for the first few minutes of the show and the time just after, it felt a little bit like that. There was an unusual silence in the pre-show crowd as they waited expectantly for the show to start, there was none of the usual bouncing banter amongst audience members that marks the beginning of most shows—uptown or downtown.

The show itself stayed very local in focus—it followed a frustrated performance artist (Scott as Marsha) working in the window of the clothing shop across the street from the Ohio and the two men who are trying to both help her solve her problem and also get in her pants. At various points throughout the show the big barn doors at the end of the space were opened to reveal the streetscape. Tourists stopped to take pictures of they-knew-not-what, cabs and SUVs rattled down the cobblestones. On some level it was the space itself that was on show during the performance, more than anything—there were no black curtains hung to hide the wings, there was no backdrop built to divide the space, large set pieces were rolled onto the stage and when the actors walked off stage they could be seen sitting against the walls, watching the action of the play, waiting for their cues.

In the final moments of the piece, six projectors projected images of ash or torn paper falling down the six columns that so define the stage at the Ohio. It was a brief but beautiful and sad image that spoke to the mood in the room.

When it finished there was a standing ovation, and after the actors took a couple of bows, Lyons (the Artistic Director of the Soho Think Tank and the person who has been running the Ohio since 1988) came out and acknowledged the crowd. Tears could be seen on many a face on the stage and in the audience. When the applause finally stopped, people gradually made their way down to the tables of food and the garbage cans full of beer, bouquets of flowers were handed around, but with less of the celebratory enthusiasm that is usually part of that post-show ritual.

It was a mixed crowd, many friends and family, and many of the artistic directors who grew up working at the Ohio, who found their footing there, or have used the space to help build their companies—Kristin Marting (HERE), Maria Striar (Clubbed Thumb), Erin Courtney (New Georges), Melanie Joseph (Foundry Theatre), David Herskovits (Target Margin), among others. Lyons’ new partner in crime, Kevin Cunningham, the Artistic Director of 3LD was also present.

In fact, Kristin Marting stopped by to chat and told me about the Artistic Director’s Poker Game, in which many of those named above, including Lyons, are regular participants. It was at one of those games that the group encouraged Lyons to make the evening not only a farewell, but also a benefit for the Ohio’s ongoing endeavors.

Being theater people, the evening wasn’t all sadness. Melanie Joseph took her position up in the office, having been designated DJ for the evening, and cigarette firmly in hand, she helped encourage the guests out onto the dance floor, changing the vibe into something more like a wake than a funeral.

By the time I left, there were a number of people out on the dance floor and the projections on the columns had shifted to colorful moving abstraction, lending the place a bit of a club-like air. And there was plenty of vodka and beer still flowing.

I will admit that before I left the space for good, I took the opportunity to sneak back behind the risers, to peek at the booth and the dressing rooms. And I also gave the posters and postcards from all the theater’s past shows hanging outside the bathrooms one last gander. I haven’t been in the city long enough to have a real sense of loss that someone like Lyons (who started working at the Ohio only weeks after arriving in city and has been there ever since) or Marting (not only did she direct her first show and grow her company there, she also met her husband at the Ohio) must feel, but I wanted to fix the memory of the place in my mind before it transforms into whatever the next phase in its history will be. If nothing else it should be remembered as space that helped a number of the city’s strongest contemporary downtown companies and artists grow and flourish. Here’s hoping they and the Ohio don’t lose the sense of camaraderie that the Soho location helped to build.