Box of Light: Fitzgerald’s 1928


Let there be light. Everything in life is a production. Sometimes making something happen depends on someone who remains invisible.

Meet Glen Ridge resident and Lighting Designer, Jill Nagle. Thanks to lighting by Jill, I saw five plays at the remarkable New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch before she became visible to me, and before I learned at a post-show reception that she lives in town.  We continued the conversation on another day at a high table beneath the gentle lighting at Fitzgerald’s 1928. 

There I learned that her choice of profession involved someone never visible to her – her grandfather, John Raymond Nagle, a medical doctor who caught pneumonia from one of his patients and died in 1933. Only decades later, when a sealed box was opened did the young doctor’s love of theater see the light once again.

He had been an intimate friend and colleague of Henry Fonda when they both worked in the Omaha Playhouse. The box contained, along with his prescription pad, certificates for founding shares of the Playhouse and a program that lists him as “Stage Director” for Henry Fonda’s first theater production. The men remained friends until the doctor’s death.

The box also contained other programs, including one for a production of Anna Christie that Jill’s grandfather did with Dodie Brando, Marlon Brando’s mother. Jill’s grandmother, a widow in her 20’s with four young sons in the middle of the depression taught in one-room schools in Iowa, Wyoming, and South Dakota before eventually teaching English at the University of Wisconsin.  In the early days, she also baby-sat for Marlon Brando.

See Jill’s impressive portfolio. Learn all about the New Jersey Repertory Company where she has been resident Lighting Designer for the last six years*. NJ Rep is unique for the number of new plays it has brought to light, world premieres that have gone on to theaters throughout the country and across the globe.

Jill says she knows two things to be true: “Love and Art.”  It’s okay with her that “most people don’t understand or even notice lighting.”  Her favorite review came from Ames Anderson, an actor in one of her NJ Rep productions, who characterized her work this way: “Lighting design is another character that plays comforter, villain, vixen, fiend, enemy, sage, sybil, all the while never announcing its presence.”

One more thing in the box would only become visible over time… a career dedicated to illumination… by such careful work repeatedly bringing into the light the unseen influence of a young doctor, her grandfather.


*Reviews of recent productions staged under lighting by Jill Nagle:  “Angels and Ministers of Grace,” “Dinner with the Boys,” “Lucky Me,” “A View of the Mountains,” and “Date of a Lifetime.”  Click here: