By Josh Rogers
A middle-aged woman with panic in her voice crossed Canal St. near a Holland Tunnel entrance Saturday night. “I don’t like this neighborhood it’s deserted,” she called out almost in desperation.
If not for the headlights shining in her face on their way to enter the tunnel, and a few dim streetlights, the street would have been almost pitch black. The only store in sight, the large deli at Canal and Hudson Sts., was closed.
The woman asked a passerby, this reporter, where 200 Hudson St. was. It was only a few feet away. She and I were headed to see the first event ever at 92YTribeca, the 92nnd St. Y’s first Downtown outpost.
Inside, Aasif Mandvi, a correspondent on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and other comedians were getting ready to take the stage to perform “The Shushan Channel,” a series of skits with the characters from Purim, while the sold out crowd of mostly twenty and thirtysomethings mingled in the lobby sipping wine and beer while sampling the hummus.
After the first show, Mandvi said he was not aware it was the center’s first performance. “I feel honored to be the first person to have major lines,” he told Downtown Express. “It’s a big stage -- you could do a lot with it.”
He said if the stranded woman had just walked around a little, she would have seen much more going on. “It’s not so desolate if you just go a block away,” he said. “I play poker down the street. Anytime I want to lose money, I come down here.”
The show, created by “Daily Show” writer Rob Kutner, changes each year and had previously been performed at Makor, the Y’s now closed center on W. 67th St. This year, the show started out with a writer’s strike (“The Whole Megillah Someone Wrote That” read one of the picket signs) forcing the Purim characters to act in “reality scrolls,” satirical skits based on shows like “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Favor of Love”.
There was also an Iranian candidates’ debate, in which the Ron Paul character one-upped his pandering Republican and Democratic counterparts by saying the government should leave Jew-killing to “mom and pop genocidalists.” The show include a screening of “Jewno,” a mock trailer of a film based on “Juno,” which has gotten over 110,000 views on YouTube.
The show’s idea, “Bring Purim to the people,” is that Purim -- a festive holiday which has no reference to God as well as a call to drink heavily and to dress up in costumes -- could be celebrated by Jews and Gentiles alike. It fits in with 92nd Street’s philosophy as a Jewish organization that programs primarily non-religious events.
After years of discussions with Community Board 1 and many other Lower Manhattan entities they were finally brought Downtown by an Episcopal group Trinity Real Estate which negotiated a 10-year lease with the Y. The space, which had been vacant for several years, was last used by Lafco, a high-end furniture and soap business.
Naomi Lopin, 92YTribeca’s acting director, said the front cafe will likely be open to the public during the day as well as during evening performances. The “official” opening will not be until the fall, but the Y is planning to have many more events over the next six months as it makes adjustments to the space and finalizes the programming.
The 16,000-square-foot space includes the main stage room that can seat 225 and be broken up into three smaller rooms, as well as a multi-purpose art gallery, a 72-seat screening room and a small seminar room.
Beverly Greenfield, a Y spokesperson, said the space is pretty much finished, but a few signs have to be put up, a few colors will be changed and the group wants to see how people use it. “We have to work out how we move through the space and live it in for awhile,” she said.
The crowd seemed to enjoy the cafe and show and the Y’s self reviews were also positive.
“It’s got a really nice flow,” Lopin said. “It’s nice people can gather up front and pass through the space.”
She was also pleased that both 225-seat shows sold out Saturday night.
Most came from all over the city, but Alyson Levine, 33, and her Battery Park City friend and neighbor, Johanna Brownell, were two of the few Downtowners.
Brownell said it didn’t much matter that the center was close because “I’ll go anywhere to see any event I want to.”
But Levine was pleased to have the Y nearby. “I think it’s the first Jewish center of this kind for Lower Manhattan,” she said. “It’s good to see that.”