First Person: ‘What Happened in Ohio’ at the Fourth Street Theatre

Tucked away on the busy streets of the East Village is the New York Theatre Workshop Fourth Street Theatre. This intimate black-box style theater seats approximately 60 and offers each audience member an up-close and personal opportunity to experience a play like no other.

The New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) is a fantastic off-Broadway theater, well known for supporting “artists at all stages of their careers, providing an environment where work can be created free from the artistic compromise and forbidding financial demands often associated with commercial venues.” The Fourth Street Theatre is part of NYTW and is often the site for rehearsals, performances, and creation. Comprised of five individuals — Ashley Nease, Stephanie Viola, Nathan Richard Wagner, Priscilla Holbrook, and Cara Scarmack — The Roadsters developed “What Happened in Ohio ” by employing various “improvisational forms and movement techniques, their findings ranging from grand athleticism to the most meticulous gestures.”

The Atmosphere

The Fourth Street Theatre is a fabulous find in New York City , a city overflowing with large theaters and tourist traps. As you pass through the curtains, you feel as if you have walked out of New York City and have entered a whole new world, as if nothing else exists pass those walls. The black brick-faced walls and old squeaky chairs add to the ambiance. The seats are all within 30ft. of the ground-level stage, offering each audience member an excellent view. Since the audience and performers are so close, the actors have the ability to easily walk through the crowds.

The Play

“What Happened in Ohio ” is composed of two parts with a total of 16 scenes. Each scene flows into the other, yet stands apart. I particularly enjoyed the scene entitled ” Priscilla Passes on the Pancake Recipe.” Ashley Nease and Stephanie Viola eagerly take mental notes as Priscilla Holbrook shares her famous pancake recipe. Much to the surprise of the audience, the actresses actually measure, mix, griddle and eat a batch of pancakes! The entire theater smelled delicious.

The play is certainly not your traditional performance. The vocabulary reflects the setting of a rural U.S. town in the ”¹…”50s, as does the costumes. The dialogue is less conversational, and more statement-reaction. The actors make use of various staccato hand movements and vary their horizontal and vertical positions on the stage. Multiple times the actors lined up on the front of the stage, only inches away from the front row of the audience. Most scenes incorporated song and live guitar playing. The ending scene, “Birds Fly Away,” ends with the cast walking through the audience and out of sight, all while singing.

“What Happened in Ohio ” is a unique opportunity to view the hard work of a group of talented actors while feeling like you’ve been transported to another era. Performances of the play will continue at Fourth Street Theatre until the end of May. Look for updates on the “What Happened in Ohio ” website for their future performance schedule.

View a slideshow of images from “What Happened in Ohio ” at the Fourth Street Theatre.