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Mark and Sarah VanDerBeets have known each other ever since they met in junior college more than 10 years ago. Since that time, they’ve married, moved from California to Williamsburg and are expecting their first child in March. But one thing has stayed the same - their desire to start a theater together.

This December, the couple’s dream came true when they opened the Charlie Pineapple Theatre at 208 North Eighth St. in Williamsburg, in a completely renovated warehouse just a few blocks from where they live.

The VanDerBeets had been looking for a space for some time and were just about to give up when Sarah said, "Let’s walk down one last street."

They turned down North Eighth Street and saw in a window a small handwritten sign that said, "For Rent, 2,000 Square Feet."

After negotiating a long-term lease with owner Fred Moehring, the couple began turning the old, dusty warehouse into a modern theater. Thus was born the Charlie Pineapple Theater.

The 45-seat theater owes its unusual name to a card Sarah found among her grandfather’s possessions after he died. On the card was written: "Ask for Charlie Pineapple."

No one knows who Charlie Pineapple is. He certainly has no idea there’s a theater named after him, but Mark is convinced Charlie is somewhere out there.

Sarah and Mark painted walls, cleaned everything and built a permanent stage (at Sarah’s insistence). They bought 10 halogen 500-watt bulbs from Home Depot and put together a lighting board using dimmer switches also bought at Home Depot.

Through the Internet, they found an Alabama theater willing to donate 45 red, plush theater seats for the cost of shipping: $300.

The space also has a cafe area in the back that Mark says is perfect for performers and displaying works of art.

"We used money we’d saved and credit cards, and we worked non-stop for three and a half weeks," says Mark.

The VanDerbeets had to work so quickly because they wanted to mount their first production just weeks after finding the space.

Charlie Pineapple’s debut production was Lyle Kessler’s "Orphans," which ran from Dec. 12 through Jan. 18. Mark said he chose the play about two brothers, one of whom is mentally disabled, because he had already appeared in a San Francisco production of it.

Mark, an actor, and Sarah, a dancer, have also established the Charlie Pineapple Theatre Company, which will be in residence at the theater. They intend to eventually produce up to five plays a year from both established and emerging playwrights, as well as feature music and dance.

The theater’s next show will be Sam Shepard’s "True West," another play about two brothers, this time one who is a writer and the other a drifter. It will run Feb. 27 through March 22.

"It’s a great play. It has a lot of power behind it. It’s a play that sweeps the audience away," Mark said.

Mark told GO Brooklyn he hopes to continue producing character-driven plays like "Orphans" and "True West."

"We’re looking to do plays that will move people, that have great characters," he said. "Our stage is very close to the audience. You can only be real in the play. You can’t just act; you have to envelop your character."

The VanDerBeets are equally proud of the care they take with their sets, which are "not just thrown together, but constructed."

After more than 10 years, Mark and Sarah VanDerBeets’ dream has now turned into a goal - "to create a place where people can see the highest-caliber theater possible - in acting and production."


"True West" will run Feb. 27-March 22, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm, at the Charlie Pineapple Theater, 208 North Eighth St. on the corner of Driggs Avenue. Tickets are $9, $7 for students and seniors. For reservations, call (718) 907-0577.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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