Theater's fans lament the loss

December 20, 1993|By Beth Hannan | Beth Hannan,Staff Writer

Don't assume that the closing of the Charles Theater is just another example of today's crowded multiplex-at-the-mall movie environment squeezing out small theaters. To our readers, the Charles' closing is like losing a friend.

All 16 callers to our Sundial poll expressed regret at the closing and shared some of their memories of the quirky art theater.

"I used to like the semi-cryptic birthday messages that the Charles would leave on its marquee," said Bob Beal. "My most vivid memory of the Charles was the night Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a plane crash.

"They blasted his music out across Charles Street and I stood in the middle of the street at one point when the traffic was nonexistent and was moved by the man's music and by the magnanimity of a theater caring enough to make such a statement. I'm really sad to see this place go down. I think it's a major cultural loss."

Kathy Rappold agreed. "One of my best memories of the Charles that stands out like none other was when I was at the premiere of 'Polyester.' I was thrilled to see Divine, who came up and hugged my then-fiance and astounded him. The look on his face was worth it. I'll miss the Charles. The last movie I saw there was 'Orlando,' and it was wonderful."

Some of the happy memories involve protests regarding the more off-beat and controversial films at the Charles. "One time when the Charles Theater was showing a movie called 'Hail Mary,' a group . . . went down to demonstrate against this movie," Alan Barysh said. "A group of us decided to hold a counter-demonstration. . . . We went down and passed out fliers, and Ms. Moran was overjoyed at our demonstration. We made her day.

"I remember Pat Moran [the theater's artistic director] and the Charles Theater as always being on the cutting edge of politics and art."

Other memories are much more personal. "I think it's a great place," said Beth Davis. "I kind of grew up at the place and I kissed my first boyfriend there. I don't know if our lips were sticking together more than my feet were on that sticky floor."

Crime in the surrounding neighborhood -- the recent robbery of the theater's box office, for example -- has been a factor in the closing, and some callers commented on that. "I remember attending the Charles Theater years and years ago in the late '60s and early '70s," recalled Barbara Treasure. "On one occasion, I walked alone from my job on 25th Street to watch a Dustin Hoffman movie ['Midnight Cowboy'] and then I walked home alone after dark to my apartment in Charles Village, completely without incidence. I remember my friend, Gary Lampert, supervising everything for years and years and years. Most of all, I remember that the Charles was part of an arts theater district that included North Avenue and other vanished theaters."

Ruth Marcus also regrets but understands the reasons for the closing. "We moved to Baltimore about 18 years ago and have used the Charles frequently because it's the only art theater in the Baltimore area. We're dismayed that it's going out of business.

"Perhaps we didn't give it the full support that we should have," Ms. Marcus continued, "but the neighborhood did determine, at least for me, my reluctance to go there -- and also some of the films were a little far out for our taste. But on the whole, we supported it and would very much like for the Charles to continue its existence, or better yet have the same theater, the same management in a possibly better area. . . . We have many happy memories of sitting in that wonderful theater, and particularly the popcorn, which was always fresh and cheaper than any other."

David Kendall understands the safety problem very well. "I've had many evenings of enjoyment at the Charles Theater. However, in the past couple of years, I've been punched in the face twice and had my car broken into several times, the windows smashed and then chased around the block by some maniac from just parking one block away.

"I'm 6 feet tall and 170 pounds," Mr. Kendall said. "If they're going to chase after me, I'm sure they frighten a lot of smaller people. It's a shame they didn't move to a neighborhood like Hampden or take over one of the abandoned theaters in a better neighborhood. Sorry to see it go, but perhaps it could be sold as shares of stock and taken up by the people that enjoy going there."

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