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Theater community mourns Philip Seymour Hoffman in New York City

Hundreds of people gather for a candlelight vigil for actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in the courtyard of the Bank Street Theater, home of the Labyrinth Theater Company, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in New York. Hoffman died Sunday of a suspected drug overdose. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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Hundreds of people gather for a candlelight vigil for actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in the courtyard of the Bank Street Theater, home of the Labyrinth Theater Company, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in New York. Hoffman died Sunday of a suspected drug overdose. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

NEW YORK, N.Y. - The New York theatre community mourned Philip Seymour Hoffman on Wednesday night with candles flickering outside a small downtown theatre and with Broadway's mighty marquee lights dimmed in his honour, a sign of the celebrated actor's broad love of the stage.

A vigil and prayer meeting was held outside the 90-seat home of the LAByrinth Theatre Company, where Hoffman had long been a member. And at 7:45 p.m., Broadway's lights turned off for a minute.

"We come together tonight in a spirit of terrible mourning and incredible loss," the Rev. Jim Martin, a Jesuit priest and LAByrinth member, told the crowd of about 200 people who stood in a chilly drizzle. "But we also come together to celebrate a remarkable life."

Hoffman, 46, who was found dead of a suspected drug overdose Sunday in his New York apartment, often chose dark, troubled characters to play, both onstage and in such films as "Capote," ''The Master" and "Doubt."

"Courage was his forte, always," said playwright and actor Eric Bogosian, a longtime LAByrinth collaborator. "In this world of creative enterprise, it is ultimately up to the artists to decide how high a bar he or she will set for themselves. Phil set his bar on the highest rung, on a rung above the highest rung. He pushed himself relentlessly until finally his efforts virtually redefined the very endeavour we call acting. That's what he wanted. He wanted to rock the world."

Hoffman's longtime partner was costume designer Mimi O'Donnell, who currently serves as artistic director of LAByrinth and is the mother of their three children. A funeral is set for Friday.

During the vigil, Martin asked the members of the crowd to speak out loud one word they think of when they think of Hoffman and raise a candle. "My word is 'humility,'" he said, setting off a chorus of words that included "genius," ''brilliant" and "grace."

Hoffman earned three Tony Award nominations for his work on Broadway, but his creative home for many years was the maverick LAByrinth company, where he served as artistic director for many years and helped build from a ragtag troupe into one of the pre-eminent downtown theatrical ensembles.

Founded in 1992 by a group of Latino actors, LAByrinth has become a home for playwrights such as John Patrick Shanley and Stephen Adly Guirgis, and for actors such as Daphne Rubin-Vega, Sam Rockwell, Bobby Cannavale, Chris Rock and Ethan Hawke.

Hoffman, who joined in 1995, earned Drama Desk nominations for directing Stephen Adly Guirgis' "Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train" and "Our Lady of 121st Street," in 2001 and 2003 respectively. He also helmed Guirgis' "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" and "The Little Flower of East Orange." Last year, he directed Bob Glaudini's "A Family for All Occasions" for LAByrinth.

Uptown, Hoffman earned a Tony Award nomination each time he appeared on Broadway. He made his debut there in Sam Shepard's "True West" with John C. Reilly in 2000 and followed it up three years later with Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" with Brian Dennehy and Vanessa Redgrave. In 2012, he played a powerful Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller opposite Andrew Garfield and under the direction of Mike Nichols.

After the ceremony, Danny Feldman, LAByrinth's managing director, said he last saw Hoffman on the street a few weeks ago while the actor was walking with his son near the theatre. Feldman greeted Hoffman and gave the boy a high five. "This is a very personal loss for our LAByrinth family and our community," he said.

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Online: http://labtheatre.org

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Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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