Israel Horovitz's Line opened in January 1974 at the 13th Street Theatre and has been running there a few nights a week with lots of breaks and interruptions ever since. Such is the laid-back life of Off-Off-Broadway.
But Line is back in the news. The show went on hiatus this summer after its longtime home at the 65-seat 1840s-vintage playhouse underwent a refurbishment. Line resumes performances Oct. 5 in the refreshed space, with a new cast, a new director and an interesting new claim to fame.
Line is an absurdist one-act play written in 1967 very much in the Beckett/Ionesco style, showing five people—Fleming, Molly, Stephen, Dolan and Arnall—waiting on line for...something. It's never specified. All that's important is who is at the front of the line. As the play goes along, each character vies for first place more and more desperately.
Line more or less reached the front of the line itself last month, having run for 41 years and nine months, which puts it just ahead of the original run of The Fantasticks, for length of time, if not number of performances. The Fantasticks played eight performances a week for 41 years and eight months, while Line has played only one or two performances a week on a highly irregular schedule for 41 years and nine months. Starting Oct. 5 it plays Mondays and Tuesdays at 9 PM.
Line is only one of more than a half-dozen shows that share the theatre's tiny stage each week. Getting To Number One
This "Little Play That Could" was written by Horovitz, now 76, who has penned more than 70 produced plays, the best known of which are probably Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, The Primary English Class, and his Obie winner, The Indian Wants the Bronx, which launched the career of Al Pacino.
"It's about who will stand first in line and what you have to do to get there," said Susan Merson, producing artistic director of 13th Street Repertory Company. "It resonates with people, especially young people."
She credits the resourcefulness and determination of the theatre's longtime owner and manager (and OOB legend) Edith O'Hara, now 98, with keeping the Line flame burning. O'Hara is mother to actresses Jill and Jenny O'Hara, both of whom played the leads in Promises, Promises on Broadway. Mama O'Hara, who lives in an apartment above the theatre, remains involved in the day-to-day operations of the theatre, and continues to consult on programming and the plans for 13th Street Rep.
"I credit the stick-to-it-iveness of Edith and her concern that there be something for young actors to do when they got to New York," Merson said, explaining that the cast of Line constantly changed as young actors came and went. It was run as a sort of employment agency for young performers O'Hara liked.
Among actors who appeared in the show over the years have been Richard Dreyfuss, John Cazale and Chazz Palminteri.
And it's not just a New York phenomenon. Horovitz told Playbill.com, "Globally, Line's long life has been miraculous. The play is continuously played around the globe (I saw 3 different productions of Line—Le Premier—in France this past spring) and it is translated and performed in more than 30 languages, worldwide. Line has played in national theatres in France, England, Ghana, Nigeria, Russia, Slovenia, Benin, Mexico, Bulgaria, Israel, Poland, Germany...on and on and on. This play has taken me around the world, visiting dozens upon dozen of productions in the past (nearly) 50 years...and still counting."
A Chance Meeting
Technically this production of Line is a revival. It premiered in 1967 at the legendary La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, with Horovitz himself as Stephen. It was subsequently produced for a short run paired with another Horovitz play at the Theatre DeLys (now the Lucille Lortel Theatre). A chance meeting between Horovitz and O'Hara when the playwright was coming to pick up his daughter from a class at the 13th Street Theatre led to the show reopening there for what has become a record-breaking run. In counting the length of Line's run, the theatre sometimes uses one of those dates, sometimes another. However, records show that the current production in the current space dates from January 1974.
"Line is a gift to the young people of the New York theatre community from Israel Horovitz," Merson said. "He wants young actors just coming to the city to have a place to be seen and a show to be seen in. This was the agreement he and Edith O'Hara created. Israel is delighted that his play can still serve the theatre community and the new team of actors and director can give it another dose of life."
Horovitz continues to add to his oeuvre. He wrote and directed the 2014 feature film version of his play My Old Lady (starring Estelle Parsons), which has also traveled around the world and is now in the repertory of the Moscow Art Theatre.
The 13th Street Theatre has one other connection to The Fantasticks. Despite the recent renovations, the theatre has kept its seats, which it rescued from the old Sullivan Street Playhouse after The Fantasticks closed there in 2002.
For more information and tickets, visit 13thstreetrep.org.