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Stella Adler Studio to Present First Off-Broadway Show

By Mathew Katz | October 28, 2011 5:21pm
Aidan Koehler and Adam Gerber play a Jew and German who fall in love, along with dozens of other characters, in
Aidan Koehler and Adam Gerber play a Jew and German who fall in love, along with dozens of other characters, in "Lebensraum"
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Stella Adler Studio/Amanda Embry

CHELSEA — An acting troupe sometimes called "the little indie theater company that could" is getting (a little bit) bigger.

For the first time in its 62-year history, the Chelsea-based Stella Adler Studio of Acting will present an off-Broadway show. Its professional troupe, the Harold Clurman Laboratory Theater Company, begins a month-long run of Israel Horovitz's "Lebensraum" on Saturday.

"This is a big step forward in being up there with the other major theater companies," said the troupe's artistic director, Tom Oppenheim, who coined the company's plucky underdog nickname.

"Like any theater company, we feel extremely enthusiastic about our work, our voice, and want to get it to as many people as possible."

Up until now, the Clurman company had performed all of its shows inside the Stella Adler Studio's 35-seat theater. The new show is being performed at the 93-seat June Havoc Theater in the Abigdon Theater Complex.

The company is named after Harold Clurman, a well-known New York-based producer, director and drama critic, who directed more than 40 Broadway shows. Oppenheim himself is the grandson of Adler, a film actress who founded the studio. Alumni of the school include Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro.

"Lebensraum," which takes its title from Adolf Hitler's policy of giving Germans "living space," is an offbeat play about a modern-day German chancellor who attempts to apologize for the Holocaust by inviting 6 million Jews to come live in Germany. The plan receives mixed responses around the world, and the play examines the complicated relationship between Germans and Jews.

Oppenheim said it's a perfect example of what the Clurman company aims to show audiences.

"The question we ask as a company is what might the theater artist do in the face of atrocity and injustice," Oppenheim said. "It’s bringing a different mindset for a circumstance that requires it."

The play stars Aidan Koehler, Adam Gerber and Mickey Ryan playing a mind-boggling 50 characters, switching from narrator to character and back, and changing costumes on stage.

"You find yourself laughing with them at circumstances that are funny but also horrendous," Oppenheim said. "So you're able to confront the worst of things in a way that’s often funny in a way that’s dazzling."

"Lebensraum" opens on Sat., Oct. 29, and runs through Nov. 20 at the Abigdon Theater Complex, at 312 W. 36th St.