F at Second Ave.; 6 at Astor Pl.; N, R at 8th St.-NYU
Few downtown theaters bust boundaries as often or as expertly as La MaMa E.T.C., which after nearly half a century, still brims with iconoclastic brio. The acronym at the end of its name stands for Experimental Theater Club, and its programming fits the description. Where else can you watch an all female neo-trapeze act one night, and a kabuki-influenced rendition of a George Bernard Shaw play the next? Located in two East Village buildings—a tenement house and a former school for German immigrants—La MaMa presents 50 to 60 productions a year in its three spaces: a bohemian-feeling cabaret, a 99-seat black box theater, and two doors away in the Annex, a commodious 299-seat auditorium. The space was founded in 1961 by Ellen Stewart, who still sits as its director and has a history of scanning the artistic underground for talented unknowns such as writer Sam Shepard, director Jerzy Grotowski, and composer Elizabeth Swados. Walking through the lobby of the Annex, past photographic collages of early performances, is like flipping through a scrapbook of the avant-garde. You’ll spot a 6-year-old Diane Lane in a production of Medea, a pre-Taxi Danny DeVito, a pre-Beauty and the Beast Ron Perlman, and Harvey Fierstein, slim, with preternaturally smooth skin.