EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (PIX11) — It may have been the final performance for a small group of actors who staged a rally near City Hall with the hope that a benefactor will hear their pleas to save the legendary Theatre 80 on St. Marks Place in the East Village.

The building began as a speakeasy during the prohibition era, and since the 1960s has been an off-Broadway theater staging hundreds of performances in the 199-seat venue.

“We had so many shows premiering here, ‘Good Man Charlie Brown,’ ‘Silence! The Musical.’ But the theater is not just a box for plays. It’s infused with the memory of all the shows that were here,” said owner Lorcan Otway.

Otway, whose family bought the property 59 years ago, lives above the theater with his wife. Faced with financial difficulties, he filed for bankruptcy, which he hoped would buy him time to find a lender. He claims his theater became one of the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID restrictions made it illegal to open the theater in New York,” he maintains. “So we were shut down during that period and we couldn’t refinance our mortgage and the note was bought by a predator and our indebtedness went from $6 million to $13 million.”

Joey Asaro, who worked as a bartender at the theater’s pub, is hoping for a miracle that the theater remains open. With heavy heart, she said, “This theater means a lot. It’s history, it’s art. This is all about supporting historic preservation.”

The theater’s rich history is plastered all over the walls with photos of iconic celebrities. Comedian Billy Crystal once worked there as an usher. Irish actor and author Malachy McCourt performed there a number of times. His daughter is supportive of the effort to keep the theater open. Siobhan McCourt sees the theater as a remarkable institution.

“It’s a magical theater,” she maintains, adding, “It’s so supportive of the neighborhood. It’s been here forever. One thing young people don’t know is the kind of joy we knew, and this theater will give them that.”

Adjoining the theater is the speakeasy-era bar with a checkered past. “This was the tap room of the speakeasy where the City Council drank during the prohibition,” Otway said. “This is where Al Capone came to meet the city government when he was in town.”

Rich with memories and rich in debt, the star is rapidly fading on the theater until there is a quick infusion of cash. “We have $13 million debt to meet quickly,” Otway said. “We have $5 million promised to us. If only we can raise $9 million more.”

New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs has been supportive of the theater’s efforts to survive. In a statement to PIX 11 News, it noted that so many groups have been devastated by the pandemic, and added, “We’ve been working closely with Theatre 80 to explore their options and support their efforts to stay open.”

With a deadline rapidly approaching, the theater owners are hopeful some well-heeled lover of the arts will come forward with funds to save the theater. If not, federal marshals will take center stage next Wednesday to evict the owners and close the final curtain on the legendary theater with so much history.