The Life of the Neigh­bor­hood Play­house on Grand Street

John P. Harrington
  • Review
By – March 5, 2012

The Neigh­bor­hood Play­house on New York’s Low­er East Side played an impor­tant role in the devel­op­ment of the­atre dur­ing the sec­ond and third decades of the 20th cen­tu­ry. John P. Harrington’s well­re­searched account of its begin­nings and devel­op­ment help to explain the rise of social-action and avant-garde the­atre in New York and oth­er cul­tur­al environs. 

The Play­house had been pre­ced­ed by anoth­er cen­ter of social and cul­tur­al events which attract­ed the mass­es of immi­grants on the Low­er East Side, name­ly, The Hen­ry Street Set­tle­ment, orig­i­nal­ly estab­lished by the Jew­ish mil­lion­aire Leonard Lewisohn in 1902. Under the guid­ance of his daugh­ters, Alice and Irene Lewisohn, as well as the social activist Lil­lian Wald, it served as a bea­con of light for pro­grams, class­es, and cul­tur­al activ­i­ties that would appeal to the new cit­i­zens of New York. 

When the Neigh­bor­hood Play­house opened its doors in 1915, two more women were added to the pro­duc­tion staff, Agnes Mor­gan and Helen Arthur. The author details how, in the fol­low­ing twelve years of its his­to­ry, these women man­aged to attract some of the out­stand­ing play­wrights, actors, and even the­atre com­pa­nies of that peri­od to stage chal­leng­ing, off­beat the­atri­cal pro­duc­tions at very lit­tle cost to the public. 

The con­stant recita­tion of details, names, and activ­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with the events of those years lends a cer­tain den­si­ty to read­ing this book, but for any­one inter­est­ed in the devel­op­ment of the­atre in New York it is a valu­able source of information.

Shi­mon Gewirtz is a can­tor, com­pos­er, and play­wright who has lec­tured on Jew­ish music at var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties and elder­hos­tels around the coun­try. His orig­i­nal songs and trans­la­tions (from both Hebrew and Yid­dish) appear in many antholo­gies. He has a Mas­ters Degree in The­ater Ed. from NYU.

Discussion Questions