Off B’way season ends on whimper

'Shakespeare,' 'Five Years,' 'Syringa' all close to closing

The biz Off Broadway is way off.

After an eight-month run, the producers of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” announced the three-person comedy is closing May 25. Jason Robert Brown’s two-hander musical “The Last Five Years” calls it quits May 5. And Pamela Gien’s “The Syringa Tree” and Alan King starrer “Mr. Goldwyn” will put in their last performances sometime in June.

None of these four shows will make it into the black, including “The Syringa Tree,” which is a carryover from the previous season.

In fact, of all the shows that opened this season in Off Broadway’s larger premium commercial theaters (229 to 499 seats), only the novelty act “Puppetry of the Penis” looks to turn a profit, and it recently moved from the 299-seat John Houseman Theater to the complex’s 109-seat downstairs venue, the Studio Theater, making way for comedy revue “The Capital Steps: When Bush Comes to Shove.”

Other Off Broadway B.O. losers for 2001-02 include musicals “Tick, Tick … Boom!,” “Bat Boy,” “Reefer Madness” and “Summer of ’42” and plays “The Shape of Things” by Neil LaBute, “Necessary Targets” by Eve Ensler and “Havana Is Waiting” by Eduardo Machado.

Off Broadway moneymakers are the long-running “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and “The Vagina Monologues” as well as revue-like entertainment that are neither play nor musical, such as “De La Guarda,” “Stomp” and “Forbidden Broadway,” among a very few.

“The focus is on Broadway,” said Ben Sprecher, a producer on “Mr. Goldwyn” and the Broadway production of “Fortune’s Fool.” “This season, Off Broadway is just not getting the attention. I felt it was different a few years ago.”

As a result, word of mouth for Off Broadway shows has built more slowly. And the margin between breakeven and gross potential continues to be much less than on Broadway.

Producer Jeffrey Richards said “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” had been profitable most weeks of its eight-month run at the Century Center, and they decided to go out on a positive note. “The Complete Works” will go out on tour next year under the auspices of Ken Gentry and Network Presentations.Despite the gloomy forecast, several intrepid producers continue to fill Off Broadway’s larger commercial theaters.

“Jolson & Co.,” a musical last seen in Gotham at the not-for-profit York Theater, moves into the Century Center in August, while Anthony Clarvoe’s play “Ctrl+Alt+Delete” takes over Playhouse 91 after “Syringa Tree” vacates that stage.