James Naughton

Two-time Tony Award winning actor James Naughton, at left, grew up in West Hartford. His daughter Keira Naughton is directing him in "Cedars," a solo show at the Berkshire Theatre Festival this summer. (Patrick Raycraft, praycraft@courant.com / July 6, 2014)

You might be tempted to call the arts as the Naughton family business, but to this group of — relatively speaking — well-adjusted actors, directors and musicians, it's just what they do.

There's father James, the two-time Tony Award-winning actor-director who grew up in West Hartford. There's son Greg, an actor-director-singer/songwriter who is also the founder of off-Broadway's Obie Award-winning Blue Light Theater. There's daughter Keira, an actor-singer/songwriter who recently acted in "These Paper Bullets" at Yale Repertory Theatre. (We're staying with blood lines for the moment. Greg's wife is Kelli O'Hara, the five-time Tony Award-nominated actress.)

This summer, the Naughtons have projects at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Mass. Keira is directing her father in the world premiere of the solo show, "Cedars," with performances beginning Wednesday, July 23, and Greg is staging a revival of "A Hatful of Rain" at the theater, with performances beginning Aug. 13.

I talked recently with James and Keira during a break in rehearsals near the theater and with Greg later on the phone from his home in New York about their sometimes inter-connected lives in the arts

"Both my kids grew up in the theater and they saw the best of it," says James Naughton, who starred in Broadway's "City of Angels" and the revival of "Chicago" among a long list of theater, film and stage credits. "They had their formative years at Williamstown [Theatre Festival] every summer which was the best at that time, surrounded by really wonderful people. So they come to [theater life] naturally."

"It's a very seductive place to grow up," says Keira of her Berkshire experiences, "and it was a dream place to be in the summer."

"I guess it was pre-ordained [of being involved in the arts]," says Greg, who is also a singer-songwriter of the folk-rock group The Sweet Remains. "The world in which my father worked was such a happy and appealing one for him — as well as for us. It was seductive right from the beginning. I know other kids of actors and they didn't have that experience but my father was pretty happy [with his life and career], especially around Williamstown, which was like a family summer camp environment."

Most appealing was the sense of extended family atmosphere, especially with welcoming artistic homes in Williamstown, Stockbridge and the Westport Country Playhouse, which was revived in the late '90s by Naughton's close friends Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.

"I've been coming to the Berkshires for many years," says Keira, "and it does feel like coming home to family. [Berkshire Theatre Festival artistic director] Kate Maguire is my other mother or older sister: a loyal, maternal, tough, cool lady who I really admire and who's been a bit of a mentor and a real pal.''

When Maguire suggested Keira to direct Naughton in "Cedars," there was no hesitation from either Naughton.

"In the last few years Keira has given me the best notes than anyone," says Naughton. "She's got a real eye [for directing]."

Growing Up With Theater

When not in the Berkshires in the summer, the Naughton family lived in Weston "where we had a pretty normal civilian life," says James. "A lot of my friends are not in the biz." His wife of 46 years, Pamela Parsons and who died last year of pancreatic cancer, was a social worker in the special education department at Weston Middle School. (She was also from West Hartford and was a '64 grad of Hall High School.)

"But we would also go to New York a lot where we saw some weird theater when we were pretty young," says Keira. "Like every Friday we would go into the city and see our father in the [1977] musical 'I Love My Wife.' I had no idea it was about wife swapping."

"It was an opportunity for the kids and me to be together," says James, "so I'd take them, one or the other or both into New York with me and we'd have dinner and they'd go to the show. "The kids were oblivious [to the subject matter of the show]."

Says Keira: "From early on [my brother and I] both wanted to do it, too, because it was such a fun place to be and the people are the best. I still feel I could never leave the theater because I don't really know how to relate to other people. You can say anything in front of actors and no one's judging you. Maybe that's why I started a family of my own late because I had all these other families and never felt isolated and never had that much of a need. That's what's so great about the theater. You really feel this familial bond with the people you work with. The last couple of shows I did — "The Dining Room" at the Westport Playhouse and "These Paper Bullets" — I wanted to move in with the people involved and live in a big commune."

Keira is married to Ben Forgash, a drummer and owner of the bar Dynaco, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. They have a 2-year-old son, Charlie.

Conard Experience

"Keira kept a very low profile as an actress as a child," says James. "Greg [who is three years older] was always doing a lot of acting stuff. Then one day I saw her in a school play, 'The Madwoman of Chaillot,' where she played an old lady.' And I watched her and I thought, 'OK, she's served notice' and there was no stopping her either."

But when it came to college Keira became an English major at Skidmore College. It wasn't until graduate school that she decided to take the plunge into the theater pool. "I remember when I was applying to NYU," says Keira, "my father said, "Is this something I should be supporting?' And I said, 'If I don't try this I'll regret it.' And he said, 'OK,' and that was basically out whole conversation."