N.Y. court un-Blochs stage for ‘Children’

A bitter, monthlong standoff between two nonprofit theaters over one of New York’s ungainliest theater spaces heated up again Wednesday as the American Jewish Theater company was granted access to the Susan Bloch Theater.

The theater’s primary leaseholder, the Broadway-based Roundabout Theater Co., had attempted to deny use by the smaller group.

Opening planned Aug. 5

American Jewish Theater artistic director Stanley Brechner said he plans to open “Children of …,” a play by and about children of Holocaust survivors, Aug. 5 at the Bloch.

He also said he has instigated a suit against the Roundabout seeking substantial damages for eviction last month and the subsequent removal of the company’s files and other materials.

Brechner said a New York State Supreme Court judge late Tuesday signed a temporary restraining order against the Roundabout. As a result, the theater’s landlord, Mutual Redevelopment Houses Inc., gave him a key to the space. For the past several weeks, Mutual Redevelopment had refused to allow either company access to the Bloch pending settlement of the dispute.

Roundabout general manager Ellen Richard said she expects the restraining order to be reversed immediately, primarily because the court “didn’t have all the pertinent information.” Additionally, he said, the Roundabout’s lease with American Jewish Theater contains a clause requiring that any disputes be argued before the American Arbitration Assn.

The American Jewish Theater has rented the Susan Bloch, a 152-seat grotto theater on West 26th Street in Manhattan, since 1988. During that time, the Roundabout moved uptown to the Criterion Center, in the theater district, becoming the third of four non-profit Broadway companies.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Theater mounted several critically acclaimed productions at the Bloch. Under its most recent lease, the company paid $ 5,200 per month rent, and while its lease with the Roundabout guaranteed its tenancy each year from November to April, American Jewish Theater paid on either a monthly or weekly basis the rest of the time.

Change of plans

In mid-June, Richard informed Brechner that the Roundabout intended to take back the theater for use as a second stage and for its conservatory. Brechner refused to leave, claiming to have properly exercised his right to extend the lease.

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