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Room With a View

The curtain goes up on an artful new theater.

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The superstar architects of the new Second Stage Theater -- talking about their project for the first time -- wouldn't presume to call it a criticism of Times Square's current Disney-influenced design ethic, but they are quick to distinguish their theater from the neighboring New Amsterdams and Victorys.

"In an area that's being laundered, it seemed interesting to do a project that derives its quality not from tarting up or excessive decoration but simply by using the space and using the city," says Rem Koolhaas. His collaborator, Richard Gluckman, adds, "I think they are creating an artificial homogeneity."

The $5.5 million, 296-seat theater at the corner of 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue has no plush seats, no tasseled curtains, and no murals of the Muses. What it does have is the former bank's twenty-foot windows, left open to the city, so that as audience members take their seats, they'll be looking right back at 42nd Street. "The magical moment is going to be defined by the inverted use of the curtain," says Gluckman. "Instead of opening at the beginning of the show, the curtain closes off the space from the city."

It's unusual enough for one internationally famous architect, much less two, to do a project of this size. "I'm interested in collaboration for its own sake," says Koolhaas. "It's a way of short-circuiting the incredible pressure and expectation of being you."

The seats and the bathrooms have been compressed into an enormous wedge (with a citrus-peel-like texture) built of green-gray epoxy resin rolled over concrete. It sits like a slice of cake in the high-ceilinged box that was once the bank's teller hall. "I was always interested in doing something where a single element could resolve the largest number of tasks," explains Koolhaas.

To enter the theater, the audience passes by the bank's vault (now a ticket window), climbs the original marble stairs, and is thrust into the Schiaparelli-orange center of the wedge. The bathrooms -- perhaps the least flattering in all of Manhattan -- are the same violent shade.

The theater showcases both architects' signatures -- Koolhaas's funky materials and dynamic shapes, Gluckman's light touch -- plus a bit of the raffish charm of the neighboring Playpen, O'Donnell Bar, and Times Square Book and Video Center (think XXX). Times Square's dwindling ranks of peep-show patrons can now peep at the higher-brow theater audience -- and vice versa.


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