Optimist starting new theater in city area of need


For the past month there's been a new sign at 1727 N. Charles St. It reads "Everyman Theatre."

The sign heralds the Nov. 4 opening of a new professional playhouse for Baltimore. It is also a sign that a local arts group has demonstrated considerable confidence in a part of the city badly in need of a show of support.

The location is a block and a half from Pennsylvania Station and a couple of doors removed from the Charles movie theater. The location is also on a block where other arts groups have tried -- and failed -- to make a go of it.

"The building meets our needs and I think our group has found the right home," says Vincent Lancisi, Everyman's founder and director.

Mr. Lancisi's first production will be playwright Sam Shepard's "Buried Child." It is scheduled to run most of next month.

He has three additional productions, "The Belle of Amherst," "The Voice of the Prairie" and "The Subject Was Roses" planned for his initial season.

The blocks of Charles Street between the railroad station and the southern edge of Charles Village comprise a less-than-prosperous business strip that has long held out promise for redevelopment and growth.

Actual accomplishment, however, has been up and down in the past 15 years. Every time city crime statistics increase, confidence in this part of town crashes.

"I've always been amazed this block has not developed quicker. The Charles Theater has guarded valet parking and there is a private security guard who wanders around the block and the side streets," Mr. Lancisi says.

He remains an ardent convert to the promise of the Charles Street and North Avenue crossroads, which 40 years ago bustled with busy cafes, restaurants, barber shops, bowling alleys, movie theaters, drug store soda fountains, grocers, butchers and bakers.

In recent years, the neighborhood (including blocks of Maryland Avenue as well) has teetered in several directions and failed to find a natural equilibrium.

For every art gallery or antiques shop that opens, there seems to be an X-rated book store or fortune telling operation. For every shoe store or dry cleaners, there has been a bar or after-hours club known only to regular patrons.

The Chesapeake Restaurant, at the northeast corner of Charles and Lanvale streets, closed more than five years ago. It was once one of the city's premiere establishments. Rumors that it will reopen come and go, but the large space remains shuttered.

One aspect of the Charles-North community is not in dispute. The blocks of Charles Street and Maryland Avenue from North Avenue to 22nd Street are the center of a thriving Korean community. It has its own apartments, restaurants, grocery stores and a travel agency. Each year, this neighborhood seems to grow stronger.

That strength has yet to manifest itself south of North Avenue in the 1700 and 1800 blocks of N. Charles St. Yet obviously the neighborhood has found an ardent new convert.

"This is a great block because it has a great history of entertainment. I think of the Famous Ballroom. The Charles Theatre is up and running and doing well. We have a wonderful art gallery and cafe in the Metropol. The Club Charles is across the street," Mr. Lancisi says.

He was born in Boston and has lived in Baltimore for nearly 10 years. He earned a master's degree from the theater department of the Catholic University of America. It was there that he got the suggestion to try Baltimore and start a repertory company here.

He did. His first production in Baltimore, "The Runner Stumbles," was staged at St. John's Methodist Church, St. Paul and 27th streets, a few years ago. Mr. Lancisi says he is realistic about his chances of success, or failure, in the financially precarious theater world.

Baltimoreans have demonstrated their loyalties to the Mechanic, Center Stage, Spotlighters, Vagabonds, Theatre Project, Theater Hopkins, Essex and Dundalk community colleges, Arena Players, Towson State University, Fells Point Corner Theatre and other theatrical venues.

"But I think there is room for one more," says the man who wants to try it at 1727 N. Charles St.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad