The Cambrian

Lights dim on Plough prospects

Poet John Keat’s words ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever’ are inscribed in the bench by the Playhouse’s namesake plow. The theater closed Feb. 28 and won’t be allowed to reopen until sprinklers are installed.
Poet John Keat’s words ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever’ are inscribed in the bench by the Playhouse’s namesake plow. The theater closed Feb. 28 and won’t be allowed to reopen until sprinklers are installed. CAMBRIAN PHOTO BY BERT ETLING

A Cambria theatrical institution since 1976 appears to have no clear and certain path towards reopening a week after negotiations first broke down between the nonprofit organization that produced the plays and the owner of the theater where they were staged.

Fire-extinguishing sprinklers must be installed at the Pewter Plough Playhouse in West Village before it can reopen, public safety officials have said. It’s estimated that will cost about $32,000.

The theater closed Feb. 28; a permit to install the sprinkler system expires July 31.

Pewter Plough patrons have said that, aside from its value as a cultural resource, the theater has attracted visitors from around the county and state who have dined in local restaurants and stayed in local motels.

The nonprofit Pewter Plough Players organization had been working on raising money to pay for the sprinklers, but has been unable to come to terms with Jim Buckley, 97, who, with his late wife, Olga, opened the theater in 1976. The agreement is necessary to protect the interests of the nonprofit organization and secure continued return on the time and money it invests in the improvements to Buckley’s building.

Viv Goff, president of the nonprofit group, confirmed it agreed Sunday, March 28, to make another offer.

Goff said, “We would be going in as a fair-market renter, for an amount

that hasn’t been established,” she said. That deal would not include any repairs, upgrades or fundraising.

The previous negotiations had been underway for more than four years before the board decided on March 22 they’d reached an impasse with the Buckleys, she said.

Other members of the nonprofit’s board include Kathryn Kenny, Wayne Attoe, Joie Macadam, Janene Norum, Nehemiah Persoff, Art Van Rhyn, Anita Schwaber, Patrice Wyse and David Manion.

The Buckleys say they’re continuing to search for funds to install the sprinklers. They’re also looking for a theater-loving buyer for the building who will allow productions to continue.

“I’m really, really sad about all this,” Goff said. “I love that place. We really wanted it to work out.”

In statements to The Cambrian on Tuesday, both Buckleys expressed their regret at the breakdown of negotiations with the nonprofit group and hope to, somehow, reopen the theater, with or without an agreement.

“It's tough to realize I’m broke and could have financed the fire sprinklers myself, otherwise,” Jim Buckley, wrote in an e-mail, referring to over $1 million in losses in what he termed the Estate Financial “Ponzi scheme.”

“Meanwhile,” he wrote, “we are searching for an angel or angels with the money for the sprinklers, so that we can get on with what the PPP has been doing for the past 33 years. ‘A Thing of Beauty Is A Joy Forever,’ as the bench out front reminds us!”

“It was most regrettable last week when our lease negotiations broke down,” his son James wrote, “when we were approximately 99 percent in agreement.”

The nonprofit group’s offer included what he termed “an excessive encumbrance on the Playhouse building.” James Buckley did not specify what the “encumbrance” was, but a nonprofit board member has said the agreement would have been long-term, possibly extending 20 years, and the nonprofit group’s investment in the sprinkler system would have been protected by a lien against the property.

“I sent the nonprofit a letter appealing and hoping to work something out and they replied by offering to do future shows at the PPP,” James added, “which we are certainly open to.” He added that the nonprofit did not offer to help with the sprinkler system, and the response seemed to be “ missing the normal sense of collaboration.”

James concluded, “at the PPP, we are now revising our approach to fund raising to make every effort to appeal for the sprinkler funds necessary to get reopened!”