For 92 years a movie theater stood in the middle of Babylon’s West Main Street—well, not 92 straight years. In fact in 1924, only two years after the Riley Brothers constructed the Capitol Theatre, the place went bankrupt. Running under new management just a year later, the rechristened Babylon Theater spent succeeding decades alternating between movie-palace glory and post-fire reconstructions. Recent years have been cruel to old-fashioned cinemas however, and after a screening of Guardians of the Galaxy in September 2014, the doors shut for good. A former Babylon Village Chamber of Commerce president told Newsday, “It’s another part of a vanishing Long Island. It’s a sad thing.”
Broadway Goes Big This Spring
But with every death comes rebirth. This spring, the period of mourning comes to an end thanks to the efforts of a clinical psychologist and his actor son. Last year, Mark Perlman and his son Dylan purchased the Babylon Theater and, using savings, recent earnings and some tax help from the local Industrial Development Agency, set about birthing The Argyle Theatre, a legitimate house for Broadway-caliber shows. On 500 high-backed seats that used to be part of the Beacon Theater, patrons can enjoy a cultural night out watching Equity actors and well-known musicians.
The creation of a new performing arts center flies in the face of the attrition that has gutted the Island theater landscape over the past decade. How then do the Perlmans think they can make it so close to, yet so far from, Broadway? “We want a convenient and affordable alternative for Long Islanders,” Dylan stressed. “We’re using union talent to try to replicate the Broadway experience, from the customer-service end to the venue itself.”
Mark elaborated that they have “a team of about twenty people experienced in Broadway and regional theater on board to handle artistic, technical, sales and marketing.” Hofstra-educated Dylan also emphasized the use of the venue for such alternative revenue sources as concerts, comedy series, film festivals, day camps, theater classes and fundraising events.
Still, creating an in-house theater company is priority one. “We’ll be casting both in Babylon and at a studio space in Manhattan,” explained Dylan, who expects to hire Broadway performers “who may be in-between shows or off a tour” alongside homegrown newcomers seeking “a launchpad for their own careers.”
The Perlmans anticipate each production will run five-to-six weeks, at six performances a week, and cost more than six-figures—a daunting prospect considering The Argyle is a for-profit venture and must rely on revenue rather than subsidies and grants. As such, the pair are targeting frequent theatergoers. “It’s increasingly difficult for the average person to see multiple Broadway shows. Tickets are $115! Even discounted tickets are pretty out-of-control,” Dylan noted.
“We’re five minutes from the Babylon train station,” Mark added. “A person can go on a Thursday night and not have to worry about expensive parking. We want to become part of the fabric of the community and be a thing to do on the Island: have dinner and walk right to a show.”
The Argyle’s inaugural Broadway season begins May 10 with the premiere of Guys and Dolls, which runs through June 17. “It’s been seeming real for a while, now it is real,” Mark said. “It is fun to stand on the stage and look out at the imaginary audience when that was only an abstraction just a year ago.”