One of Westport’s best-kept secrets is the White Barn Theatre.
Founded in 1947 by actress/producer Lucille Lortel on her Newtown Road property straddling the Norwalk line, the 148-seat White Barn has always played second fiddle to the bigger, better-known red barn Westport Country Playhouse.
But despite its low-key presence — it may be the last organization on earth without a website — the White Barn Theatre deserves its place in arts history.
Lortel envisioned the former horse barn as a showcase for daring plays and new playwrights, composers, actors, directors and designers. It has been called “one of the greatest American experimental theaters of the 20th century.”
It presented works by Ionesco, Albee and Beckett, and premiered or staged early versions of plays that went on to successful Broadway and Off-Broadway runs, including Paul Zindel’s “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” and Terrence McNally’s “Next.”
Among the actors who got their start there were Peter Falk and Geoffrey Holder.
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller were regular guests for plays by Athol Fugard, Bertold Brecht and Tennesse Williams.
It’s the real deal — even if you’ve never heard of it. And many Westporters have not.
This Saturday (May 12, 2 p.m.), you’ll get a chance to peek inside the White Barn Theatre. The Westport Historical Society is sponsoring a tour. Former general manager Mark Graham and British stage designer Peter Ling will show off the building and grounds (Lortel’s private residence still stands).
There will be a reading, and refreshments in the garden.
Plus, Ling says, through “the magic of theater” Lortel and Eva La Gallienne — the actress/producer/director long associated with the White Barn — will “live again.” I can’t say more than that, but it should be very cool.
Just like everything about the White Barn Theatre. Whether you’ve been a fan for 6 decades, or heard of it for the first time 6 seconds ago.
(Tickets are $10 each. For reservations, call 203-222-1424. The White Barn Theatre is located on Newtown Turnpike, near the corner of Cranbury Road.)