The once-bright Blue Light Theatre has switched off for the time being. Greg Naughton, the actor-manager of the Off-Broadway theatre — which has produced acclaimed revivals of Odets, as well as premieres by Daniel Goldfarb and Jessica Goldberg — told Playbill On-Line that the company has temporarily suspended operations, abandoning its current season at the halfway point. The troupe's current home base is the McGinn-Cazale Theatre, former stomping group of Second Stage.
Naughton said the company had been pondering going on hiatus for a couple years. "I felt there might be a better structure to serve our goals," he stated. "This will give the opportunity to do that. That's the silver lining part of it."
As might be expected, money problems informed the decision. "Money has always been a problem" said Naughton. Two years ago, the Blue Light was saddled with a deficit of $200,000. That has now been paid off. However, the cost of producing large-cast shows—the Blue Light's forte—has proved prohibitive. "It's always going to be hard for a company who doesn't just serve the bottom line to work in this enviroment," argued Naughton. "Our mission is to give up-and-coming actors the opportunity to do large-cast plays, plays of classical scope, with veteran actors. As pricing goes up, theatres are forced to do smaller-cast shows. The apprenticeship tradition is being lost." Blue Light works on an Off-Broadway letter of agreement with Actors' Equity.
The rising cost of New York real estate in the boom economy of the Clinton years also proved a heavy burden, he added.
Naughton stressed that this was not the end of the six-year-old troupe. "We hope to come back and redouble the effort," said Naughton. "I feel optimistic that we can do that." He said the company may produce on a one-off basis in the future, but has no set plans at present. In the meantime, Second Stage, which last year announced its intention to reclaim the McGinn-Cazale as an additional playing space, will fold Blue Light's subscription base into its own. Second Stage executive director Alexander Fraser told Playbill On-Line that two shows were yet owed to Blue Light subscribers, and that that obligation would be honored with Second Stage's productions of John Patrick Shanley's Cellini (currently running) and the upcoming revival of Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart.
As for the McGinn-Cazale, Fraser said the space is already rented out for the spring. First up will be a limited run production by the New Federal Theatre. A commercial offering will follow. Second Stage will use the theatre in spring 2002 for a series of "developmental productions," which will be offered to subscribers.
The Blue Light was founded in 1995 and initially made its name with lauded Off-Broadway revivals of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy and Waiting for Lefty. Both were directed by Joanne Woodward. Woodward and her husband, Paul Newman, were closely affiliated with the company, as were actor James Naughton (who directed the Blue Light's production of Filumena) and his son Greg. The two clans, as well as other big names, were routinely present at the Blue Light's starry annual fund-raising events.
Blue Light's offering varied greatly in character over the years. Initially, seasons were filled with revivals such as the Odets dramas, Eduardo DeFilippo's Filumena and Chekhov's The Seagull, with Maria Tucci and Mark Blum directed by Austin Pendleton. But 1998 saw Dare Clubb's four-hour-long, radical adaptation of the Oedipus myth, starring Frances McDormand and Billy Crudup, as well as the new Michael Cristofer drama, Amazing Grace. Those productions were followed by the 1999 New York premiere of British playwright Philip Ridley's The Pitchfork Disney.
In recent seasons, the company has produced premieres by up-and-coming American writers, including Jessica Goldberg's poorly received The Hologram Theory and Daniel Goldfarb's well-reviewed Adam Baum and the Jew Movie, starring Ron Leibman. Since then, it has produced The Hologram Theory, a revival of Philip Barry's Hotel Universe and Darko Tresnjak's Princess Turandot.
During the 1999-2000 season, Peter Manning and Mandy Greenfield were acting artistic directors, while Naughton took a sabbatical. Greenfield will hold on to the Blue Light offices and has plans to start a new theatre company dedicated to new plays.
Up until alighting at the McGinn-Cazale, the Blue Light had been an itinerant troupe, performing at HERE, The CSC space in the East Village and what is now the Women's Project Theatre in the Clinton neighborhood.
— By Robert Simonson