Though many an Off-Broadway company continually bemoans the myriad difficulties implicit in producing theatre in New York City on a steady basis — from fund-raising to union costs to competing with Hollywood for actors — few troupes reach a point where they actually give up the fight. So it came as a bit of a surprise when the Blue Light Theatre Company, one of the city's brighter troupes throughout the late '90s, abruptly announced this week that it would temporarily suspend operations, abandoning its current season at the halfway point. The company's subscription base has been absorbed by Second Stage (which will honor the two shows Blue Light still owed subscribers), and the group's home, the McGinn-Cazale Theatre, has already been rented to other productions.
Actor-manager Greg Naughton cited the financial difficulty in mounting the large-cast shows to which the company is dedicated, as well as the rising cost of Manhattan real estate. That money is a problem for such a well-connected organization might well give other companies pause. Blue Light's annual fundraising events are well-known as swank affairs featuring the likes of Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, James Naughton, Alec Baldwin and Gwyneth Paltrow. One might well wonder, if that group can't keep an ensemble going, what can?
Still, Greg Naughton is sanguine about the future and determined to revive the company. "We hope to come back and redouble the effort," said Naughton. "I feel optimistic that we can do that." He said the company may soon produce on a one-off basis, but has no set plans at present. In the meantime, there is a silver lining, or, rather, two. Former Blue Light artistic associate Carl Forsman has formed the new Keen Company, the debut production of which — Conor McPherson's The Good Thief starring Brian d'Arcy James — bows in March. And producing manager, Mandy Greenfield, said she will hold on to Blue Light's offices to launch her new company, dedicated to new plays. So, hope springs eternal.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn may be gazing hopefully across state lines at the Helen Hayes Theatre, home of Dirty Blonde, the Claudia Shear comedy which has dipped in attendance ever since Shear was replaced by Kathy Najimy. The show began advertising "last weeks" on Feb. 7. Just a while ago, it seemed a given that, if the Helen Hayes become vacant, the one-man show Gershwin Alone (co-produced by Martin Markinson, who owns the Hayes) would move in. Lately, however, everything points to Lloyd Webber and Ayckbourn's By Jeeves, a smash at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, as the next tenant. Artistic director Ted Pappas told Playbill On- Line that the company hoped to find a Broadway berth immediately following its March 4 close. Is it me, or does it seem that every spring brings a down-to-the-wire race as to who will get the Helen Hayes? A hotbed of intrigue, that tiny building is.
The runaway critical success of Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby has had repercussions, both good and bad. The good: producer Elizabeth McCann, who has made a career out of backing the work of Albee (she was also behind Three Tall Women) said that the red-hot dramatist's as-yet-unseen new play, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, may reach Off-Broadway this fall. "We'd like to do The Goat in the fall," she said. (If The Goat does find a berth in autumn, 2001 could prove a three Albee year: Albee told Playbill On-Line in late 2000 that he hopes to bring his The Lorca Play, about the famed Spanish poet and playwright, to Off-Broadway in December.) The bad? Well, the Manhattan Class Company had planned to stage SKIPwith by Anto Howard and Brian Murray, and starring Murray, from March 20 to April 15. But Murray is too successful in Baby to make his debut as a playwright this season. So MCC pushed Angus MacLachlan's Dead Eye Boy starring Lili Taylor, originally set to play right now, back to April, and booked in its place Leslie Ayvazian's one-person show, High Dive. The switch may work out for the best. High Dive is co-produced with New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre. The last time MCC collaborated with Long Wharf on a play, it won a Pulitzer Prize or something like that.
A couple of shows which were supposed to make Broadway this season, but may very well attain that goal next season, were in the news. Little Women, a musical adaptation of Louis May Alcott's novel, started a workshop production at Durham, North Carolina's Duke University. Producer Randall Wreghitt said that stops and dates for a regional tour would be worked out shortly afterwards. Then it seemed more likely that John Kander and Fred Ebb's The Visit would have a fall run at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. Several sources confirmed the arrangement, but producer Barry Brown strongly cautioned "We are definitely not booked, there is no signed agreement, we are exploring it."
Drama Dept. is more than exploring the possibility of staging three Paul Rudnick one-acts in the fall; the company is doing it, or, at least, announcing an intention to. The plays are Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach, Special Needs and On the Fence, and Christopher Ashley will direct. That's almost as much information as you'll get about the company's upcoming offering. The production in question has dates (March 12-May 5) authors (comedy team Amy and David Sedaris), a cast (including Amy), a director (Hugh Hamrick), even a sound designer (Laura Grace Brown, if you're interested). What it doesn't have, and hasn't for a year now, is a title. Details.
— By Robert Simonson