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LI's Brian MacDevitt lights the way home

Just because he's a five-time Tony winner doesn't mean Brian MacDevitt can't find his way around Port Jefferson.

The Setauket native and Tony-winning lighting designer of Broadway's hottest show, "The Book of Mormon," returns home to Theatre Three to direct "Proof," opening Saturday night.

"Let's see if they're open around the corner," MacDevitt tells a reporter as they approach Starbucks. (Tiger Lily Cafe is closed, so they return to Starbucks for an interview.)

"I wasn't into theater at Ward Melville," MacDevitt says of his high school days. "I was too cool," he adds with an ironic smile.

Too cool for college, too. So he hung around the Three Villages in the early '70s and immersed himself in stagecraft at St. James Community Free Theater. "Theater in its purest form," he recalls. "I blossomed, doing everything" -- including lighting for the first time in "Murder in the Cathedral." "It occurred to me, walking to Genovese drugs and the pancake house, that I loved theater."

PROFESSIONAL TRACK By 1980, MacDevitt earned his bachelor's at SUNY Purchase. "I knew then I'd be a professional," he says. Bradlee Bing hired him to light Theatre Three's "A Christmas Carol" in 1982 -- before any of Jeffrey Sanzel's 1,000-plus Scrooge performances. "It immediately went to the top of my resumé," says MacDevitt, who designed a dozen Theatre Three shows, including a Shakespeare production starring Jack Green.

Then came his Off-Broadway break, lighting Jon Robin Baitz's "Three Hotels." Meanwhile, MacDevitt commuted to Purchase as part of its visiting faculty. In 2009, he moved his family -- he and his wife have two sons, ages 9 and 6, to Bethesda, Md., near his University of Maryland associate professorship.

Last year, four of his students designed Broadway shows, including Kenneth Posner, who shared the 2007 lighting Tony for "The Coast of Utopia" with MacDevitt and Natasha Katz. MacDevitt's other three Tonys are for "Into the Woods" (2002), "The Pillowman" (2005) and "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" (2009).

NEW TO DIRECTING "Being a designer," he says, "I never experience the whole process. It's exciting to just sit and talk with actors about truth and trust" -- big issues in "Proof." MacDevitt's first choice was Kenneth Lonergan's "Waverly Gallery," a play about a woman losing herself to Alzheimer's -- a disease that claimed the life of the director's mother last January. "But 'Proof' has much more dramatic tension," MacDevitt says of the 2001 Pulitzer winner. "I thought about bringing in some ringers from the city." But auditions brought former colleague Green to the role of the doddering math genius who may or may not have solved the "proof." Or was it his daughter, played by Theatre Three regular Maryellen Molfetta?

No stranger to the Long Island Rail Road, MacDevitt continues to juggle lighting projects. "Enchanted Island," the new Met opera, just opened. In February, he'll illuminate "Death of a Salesman," starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and directed by Mike Nichols.

Meanwhile, the "too cool" professor is up for tenure.


WHAT "Proof," by David Auburn, directed by Brian MacDevitt

WHEN | WHERE Opens Saturday night at 8, Sunday at 3 p.m., through Jan. 28 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson

INFO $15-$28; theatrethree.com, 631-928-9100

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