A COMMUNITY theater can be a great...


A COMMUNITY theater can be a great asset to a neighborhood. Take the example of Everyman Theatre, a small professional playhouse started by Vincent Lancisi. After four years of performing in borrowed venues, it opened Thursday in its first permanent home at 1727 North Charles Street.

This is the same building which last year briefly housed a zany 24-hour cafe and performance place. It did not survive.

A year ago, it looked for a time as though the Charles Theater, a few doors down, might be forced out of business. But that venerable movie house specializing in art films was revived, making the gruff block attractive to Everyman's backers.

"It's only the arts that will save a block like this," says Mr. Lancisi, reasoning avid theater-goers are more adventurous than ordinary Baltimoreans.

The Charles Street area's entertainment businesses, which also include a cafe and art gallery and a couple of night clubs, are taking aggressive measures to promote the block as a safe place to visit. They have hired a guard who patrols the block at night. They also have struck an arrangement which offers patrons valet parking for a mere $2.

Mr. Lancisi's goal is to turn his company of nine professional actors into an "Off Broadway" type theater in the region. It is telling that "Buried Child," the Sam Shepard-authored play that opened last night and runs Thursdays through Sundays until Nov. 27, is done in cooperation with the Rep Stage Company, a professional group in residence at Howard Community College.

Everyman's spring season will consist of "Voice of the Prairie" (Jan. 10 through Feb. 12), "The Belle of Amherst" (March 3 through 19) and "The Subject Was Roses" (June 2 through 25).

The highest-priced tickets at Everyman go for $15. "The whole thing about Everyman Theatre is that you don't have to get a second mortgage to go there," explains Mr. Lancisi.

Everyman Theatre's permanent home is an encouraging addition the Baltimore theatrical scene, and to a downtown city block with considerable promise.

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TODAY IS "Welcome Back!" for the fabled toy store, FAO Schwarz. Baltimore is where the family first opened a toy shop -- 132 years ago.

But the Baltimore branch of the toy emporium ended when Gustave Schwarz' Charles Street shop closed in 1922, while uncle Frederick August Otto's Schwarz Toy Bazaar in New York City prospered. It remains a "don't miss" sight for kids and adults.

FAO Schwarz' latest store, at Towson Town Center, opens today with a 12-foot bronze-tone Teddy Bear sculpture and an electronic floor keyboard such as Tom Hanks played in the movie "Big." Sadly, the Schwarz family no longer owns the toy chain: It was purchased by a Dutch retail group in 1990.

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