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Queens theaters offer great bang for your dwindling buck

Let me encourage you! You want a little encouragement, don’t you? In the passionate and tense drama “Orphans” by Lyle Kessler, a 24−year−old play out of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company, one of the characters is often in need of a hug for encouragement. Since I am an affectionate guy, my last column offered some encouraging hugs to those of you who seldom get out to see a play or a musical, even though you’re here in NYC and its suburbs, where the opportunities to see a show are limitless.

If Broadway and Off Broadway may be somewhat intimidating, not to mention expensive and a trip to Manhattan, there’s lots to choose from locally, and it all comes under the heading of Off Off Broadway. That banner covers all theaters in New York with fewer than 100 seats, from professional venues to community theaters. They are even eligible for their own awards, such as the IT presented by the New York Innovative Theatre Awards.

While the larger theaters have to make enough money to cover their substantial expenses, the smaller ones are generally not commercial, have limited runs and rely largely on donated services. However, that’s not to say they aren’t good. True, the quality of local theater can be hit−or−miss, but I have seen some excellent shows here in Queens, and the productions give you your money’s worth.

When you can buy most tickets for less than $25, sometimes way less — not even the cost of a movie if you’re eligible for a senior discount — you really can’t go wrong. An audience for a local show will overlook a production that’s lacking perfection when they’re close to home and the price is right. And what you will usually get to see is a play or a musical that you’re familiar with, something that has met with lots of critical approval, a title that comes with a good−time guarantee.

As long as I’m encouraging you to get out of the house and enjoy live theater, let me also encourage the local groups to be more adventurous. Some, like The Phoenix Players, already are, producing plays out of the ordinary that are not done over and over again. Sonya Tannenbaum, a leading actor who specializes in playing older women, subscribes to The Outrageous Fortune Company, because she knows that she’ll see something contemporary and different that she has not seen before.

Although lots of shows are closing in Manhattan, our local companies will survive this dismal economy — they don’t have any money to begin with. And since they operate on a shoestring, they can afford to take a risk with the new and up−to−date. I can assure you that there’s a large audience for the novel and compelling, a show that will attract a younger crowd along with us older folks.

Finally, it’s time for a home in Queens for original works. There are lots of playwrights out there who will be more enthusiastic than a game show contestant if they can get their plays performed. On rare occasions, a local group has produced something original, but perhaps one will now make it their specialty. After all, these unsung playwrights are waiting for hugs of encouragement too.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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