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An Adjustment on the Deuce

The premise behind “The Adjustment Bureau” is simple and delicious: At each human’s birth, a supreme, omniscient “chairman” creates a script for his or her life. As people grow, the chairman helps turn these prescribed narratives into reality with little nudges, or “adjustments:” inconspicuous, seemingly random blips—lost keys, forgotten appointments—that ultimately put people on the “right” path. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt oh-so-stylishly lead the way through this delightfully glossy, children’s book fantasy kind of grown-up blockbuster.

Exiting the AMC Empire on West 42nd Street, where “Bureau” is playing, I couldn’t help but wish for a few “adjustments” in that theater’s exceptional history. Once a beautiful, legitimate playhouse, it followed Times Square into general decay and porno squalor. Under the jurisdiction of The New 42nd Street Street, Inc., the Empire missed the world-class renovations sported by several of its Deuce brethren, and now serves as the entrance to AMC’s monster movie complex. (This remarkable civic tale gets the royal treatment in Anthony Bianco’s pitch-perfect book, “Ghosts of 42nd Street.”)

The current "house" of the Empire

While the Empire doesn’t sit in total disuse (like the Times Square Theater across 42nd Street), its current status is just a little heartbreaking. Check out the photos I took on my way into “The Adjustment Bureau” to get an idea of what this reappropriation actually looks like. What was once a deck is now a ticket counter, and the proscenium’s vain stab at integrity is hopelessly corrupted by the escalators’ violent trajectory “upstage.” The two balconies languish in total disuse. And, most importantly, plays are nowhere to be found.

I suppose we should be grateful this architecture is preserved at all—the Empire’s castrated brother, The Liberty, sits blasphemously mid-construction awaiting its new, glorious tenure as a Tim Horton donut shop. (Not a joke. A return to theatrical legitimacy would be understandably difficult for this severely limited house, but a cream-filled, sprinkle-laden future hardly seems like the answer.) How disappointing that New 42’s mission views such “readaptive uses” (their website’s words) as renewal.

The Empire's 42nd Street neighbor, the Liberty, in early 2009. (photo by me)

Maybe our “chairman” actually has “adjusted” things, and the current state of affairs is a rosy substitution for some far worse alternative. And yet, the Empire feels like some awful compromise, a cruel truce between art and commerce. So close. So far.

1993, post eminent domain...

... and 2011, as the AMC.

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