Groups raise the curtain on LIC musical theater

Photo courtesy Variations Theatre Group
By Ron Hellman

A lot is happening in Long Island City. Once a mostly industrial enclave in far west Queens, it’s now in the midst of gentrifying with the rise of several new residential buildings, and its main thoroughfares of Vernon Blvd., Jackson Ave. and Borden Ave. are sprucing up with amenities for the new inhabitants.

Not the least of the newcomers is the Variations Theatre Group, a 3-year-old company that now has its own building, a two-story former factory that has been born again as The Chain Theatre. This is good news for Queens and, hopefully, a sign of things to come as we take our chances with a new year.

A couple of Hofstra University graduates, Rich Ferraioli and Kirk Gostkowski, are the artistic directors and driving force of the not-for-profit Variations, which proclaims to be “an independent theatre company of collaborating artists whose goal is to produce intellectually engaging, muscular theatre.” That sounds kind of grandiose, but the important thing is that VTG is here and open for business.

Located at 21-28 45th Road, the building is right down the block from the Court Square station – that’s the No. 7 train for those who can’t-do-without–a-car — and other subway lines are in the vicinity. Street parking is bearable, especially in the evening when the Citicorp building types and other workers have gone home.

And if you’re in that part of town, The Chain Theatre is looking for rentals. Its 4,000 square feet contains a performing area that can squeeze in maybe 90 seats, as well as rehearsal and office space. It’s also available for art showings, fund-raisers and film viewings. For those of us who long for real theater venues in Queens, it’s a big step in the right direction.

VTG itself promises to be a company that takes on some challenging work. Before it moved to the Chain, it produced “Fool for Love” by Sam Shepard and “The Shape of Things” by Neil LaBute, two stimulating plays that are rarely available for our local audiences. Its opening venture at the Chain was its annual Harvest Festival, presenting 10 new one-act pieces, a full length play and three readings. I recently had the pleasure of seeing its production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” a concert version of the classic holiday tale of redemption, with lots of seasonal songs, starring Robert Ian Mackenzie as Scrooge. If the quality of that work is any indication, VTG is on its way to being a major player in Queens.

Next up, starting Jan. 17and running for three weeks is “After the Fall,” by Arthur Miller. The playwright’s most autobiographical work, it gives us Marilyn Monroe fans something more to think about. Take a look at www.VariationsTheatreGroup.com and www.ChainTheatre.org for more.

Always worth a visit to Sunnyside is the Thalia Spanish Theatre. This bilingual group’s latest dance musical “afroTango” opens on Jan. 25, with a special performance on Valentine’s Day followed by a reception with the artists with wine and tapas. Moving east to Forest Hills, you’ll find the outstanding Parkside Players. Their February production is the thriller-turned-farce “The 39 Steps,” a hit in London, on Broadway and Off, and now making its Queens debut.

Here’s my New Year’s wish to you all for 2013, courtesy of Kevin Kline when he was preparing for the title role in “King Lear”: “Why not do something that scares us and is challenging? What else are we here for?”

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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