1 Sheridan Square: Café Society & Ridiculous Theatrical Company.

  • William B. Harris - Walking Tour

When William Harris reviewed a revival of Charles Ludlum’s Corn in 1978, he noted the elements on which Ludlum and his Ridiculous Theatrical Company built their work. Exploring the logic of comedy residing within the human psyche, Ludlum free-associated with pop cultural references, comic conventions, and the culture of the gay and cross-dressing communities. Yet Corn, functioned as a coherent commentary on the relation between real-life America and the entertainment business of the day. Like the play, the playhouse reverberated with the echoes of American culture. In 1834, Samuel Whitmore erected a multifunctional building with a large cellar and vault below it for storage, a shop on the first floor, and apartments above. In 1917, as the heyday of the Village Bohemians waned, a painter, curio dealer, and local colorful character named Merton Clivette moved into the building with his family. His wife Catherine Parker Clivette was president of the Greenwich Village Historical Society and held its meetings in the building. As more entertainment venues opened in the Village, One Sheridan’s basement with its extra vault space became a valuable commodity. From 1938 to 1949 it was home to Barney Josephson’s  Café Society, a nightclub that in a largely white neighborhood welcomed Black performers and customers. One of Josephson’s coups was to have Billy Holiday bring to Café Society’s stage “Strange Fruit,” a blues lament mourning a lynching victim. Josephson’s commitment to breaking down segregation in his nightclub attracted attention from J. Edgar Hoover, who saw Josephson as a dangerous leftist undermining American ways, and harassed him to the point that Josephson gave up the club. During the 1950s and 1960s the space was available for rent for performances; by 1970 it was briefly a nightclub attracting gay youth. In 1979 Charles Ludlum moved his Ridiculous Theatrical Company there to produce the plays that he was writing. Ludlum gathered a loyal troupe of actors, including Everett Quinton, who became Ludlum’s life partner, and carried on after Ludlum’s death from AIDS in 1987. The Ridiculous Theatrical Company moved out of One Sheridan in 1995, and, in 1997, another experimental theatrical company, Axis, moved in.