Mini-renaissance on Charles Street

September 23, 1993

Baltimore's newest theater space gave its formal kickoff last weekend with a benefit performance featuring legendary singer-comedienne Eartha Kitt at the New Metropolitan Theater Company on North Charles Street. The alternative theater company, which is housed a few doors up from the Charles cinema, is the brainchild of owners Kevin Brown and Bill Maughlin, who have turned the old Maryland Library for the Blind into a 375-seat theater, art gallery and cold foods cafe as part of the hoped-for renaissance of the Charles Street corridor just below North Avenue.

The theater company has already put on several productions since moving into its new quarters last May. New Metropolitan is a non-profit collective founded in 1982 and supported by a dedicated band of some 200 enthusiastic patrons, friends and volunteers who run the theater and operate its galleries and cafe. Its goal is to provide exposure and experience for new performing and visual artists and create a forum for younger poets, dramatists and performers to exchange news and views concerning the local arts community.

Messrs. Brown and Maughlin have taken a five-year lease on their space. Clearly they hope to be around for a while. And while all new arts ventures are close-run things by definition, in this case, at least, trends may be running in their favor. The neighborhood, which fell on hard times a generation ago, is in the midst of a hard-fought struggle to remake itself.

Major infrastructure projects, such as the construction of a new parking garage under Penn Station for 500 cars and new ramps and access bridges linking the rail terminal with Charles Street hold out the potential for a commercial revival along North Charles Street. Next door to the Metropolitan Company, Odessa Dunson and Barbara Lahnstein, who have managed the 32nd Street Farmers Market for the past two years, opened the Metropol Cafe and Gallery in the space formerly occupied by the BAUHouse arts center.

Still, there is general acknowledgment that the revival won't happen overnight. Residential development on the adjoining side streets proceeds mostly in fits and starts, despite the potential appeal of the area's picturesque Victorian brick rowhouses along St. Paul and Calvert streets. And local residents have been engaged for years in a running controversy over a few area night spots, complaining that they have attracted unruly crowds. One can only hope these are all merely the inevitable birth pains of what eventually will become an exciting new venue for the arts in Baltimore.

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