Teenagers Charged With Setting Fire to Shakespeare Theater in Connecticut

Two teenagers were charged Monday with setting the January fire that destroyed the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Conn., a 1,500-seat venue that once featured performances by Oscar-winning actors.

The theater, which opened in 1955 and closed about three decades later, was modeled after the Globe Theater in England, which burned down in the 17th century. The Connecticut theater once featured performances by Katharine Hepburn, Helen Hayes and Christopher Walken.

On Jan. 13 at about 1 a.m., a fire was reported at the Shakespeare Theater, and the building was ultimately reduced to a smoldering mound of mangled steel.

Frank J. Riccio II, the lawyer for one of the teenagers, said in a phone interview on Monday that his 18-year-old client was charged with arson, burglary, reckless endangerment and criminal trespass in connection with the theater fire. Mr. Riccio would not identify his client, who was 17 at the time of the fire.

The Associated Press reported that the Stratford Police Department released a statement on Monday saying that two teenagers, 17 and 18, were charged with setting the fire and were not named because they were minors at the time. A Police Department spokesman would not immediately comment.

Mr. Riccio said his client, who attends a high school in Stratford, was also charged with several counts in connection with setting a fire in a lawn service truck. He said his client voluntarily gave himself up to the local police on Monday morning.

Based on Connecticut law, Mr. Riccio said that it was possible that a court would decide his client should be charged as an adult, meaning his name would be released to the public. At least one other teenager was involved with the fire in addition to the two who had been charged, he added.

Mayor Laura Hoydick of Stratford, a town of about 50,000, told The Hartford Courant that she was saddened by the news that two young people were charged with the crime, adding, “Hopefully this doesn’t impact the rest of their lives.”

The Shakespeare Theater opened in 1955 with a performance of “Julius Caesar” and became central to the production of Shakespearean plays in America. The idea for an American Shakespeare theater was credited to the playwright and producer Lawrence Langner, who enlisted the help of Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder of the New York City Ballet, and the philanthropist Joseph Verner Reed.

The building was constructed from angelique teak, a gift of the French government. It started as a rich brown color and gradually turned to a silvery gray over years of exposure to the elements, Roberta Krensky Cooper wrote in her book “The American Shakespeare Theatre: Stratford.” The auditorium’s seats were upholstered with red corduroy, and there was a lounge that looked out on the Housatonic River.

Ms. Cooper wrote that the theater was representative of Americans’ attempt to develop an approach to Shakespeare’s works that was homegrown and “non-British.” But there was a constant tension between finances and artistic integrity, she wrote.

By 1982, the theater had run out of money and benefactors, and the state took ownership. In 2005, the town reclaimed the deed and struggled to figure out what to do with it.

A group of supporters had been working to revitalize the site in recent years. After the fire, the mayor, Ms. Hoydick, established a committee to decide what to do with the property on which the theater was situated.

Emily Rueb contributed reporting.

Follow Julia Jacobs on Twitter: @juliarebeccaj.

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