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Revamped Ensemble Theater slots classics

Rebuilt facility slates Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" as premiere prod'n

The Manhattan Ensemble Theater opens its doors in SoHo with a completely overhauled 140-seat house –created with the help of a $500,000 nest egg — and plans to give the literary classics a new adaptation and airing onstage.

Its annual operating budget is to be $750,000, a sizable sum for a smaller company, allowing their directors the luxury to hire large casts of 10-15 actors for each production.

In keeping with MET’s Great Books slant, the first production–slated to premiere Feb. 21 — is based on Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Idiot,” in an original adaptation for the stage by MET founder David Fishelson, who also serves as a.d. of the company. He first penned his staging of the Russian novel for downtown’s veteran Jean Cocteau Repertory, where he was most recently an associate artistic director.

The production will feature a 15-member cast headed by John Lenartz, as well as the work of Tony Award winning designer Richard Hoover, who created the set design for Tennessee Williams’ “Not About Nightingales” at the Circle in the Square.

“The Manhattan Ensemble Theater will do New York or American premieres of dramatizations of classic prose. We are trying to mine new ore from the classic canon,” Fishelson said.

Stylish digs

Fishelson’s fund-raising acumen helped to establish the MET in its well-appointed downtown digs at 55 Mercer Street. On the premises of what was the former Synchronicity Space, the new house has been entirely refashioned. It boasts new seating, a handsome renovated lobby, a 28-foot-by-22-foot stage, and state of the art sound and lighting. The MET is one of New York’s few theaters of this size to be fully wheelchair accessible. Given the bohemian grunginess of many downtown theaters, these physical facilities are likely to turn a few heads.

The MET plans to do three plays annually, maintaining a semi-regular ensemble company. “We’re not a rotating repertory, but we plan to gather a group who will come back to us so that we can build an ensemble,” said managing director Jennifer Roth.

Fishelson added, “We’re inspired by the Moscow Art Theater. I hope to establish something of a classicist enclave. If it’s never been done as a play, I’ll stage it, and I want to do it faithfully first. Maybe in 100 years they can deconstruct it.”