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Obituary: Mark Medoff – ‘Tony award-winning playwright of Children of a Lesser God’

Mark Medoff Mark Medoff

Although Mark Medoff wrote more than 30 plays for stage and radio and a further 12 screenplays, he will be largely remembered for one work: Children of a Lesser God.

First staged in 1979 at New Mexico State University, where Medoff was then teaching, it reached Broadway the following year and the West End (at the Mermaid and Albery theatres) in 1981. The story of a young deaf woman’s relationship with her former teacher, it won Medoff Tony and Olivier awards and an Oscar nomination for his 1986 film version.

His most revived play, dominating UK regional theatre programmes for much of the following decade, it returned to Broadway in 2018. His only other appearance on the Great White Way was 2004’s Prymate, which closed after just five performances following controversy over its casting of a black actor to play a gorilla.

Born in Mount Carmel, Illinois, after graduating from Miami and Stanford universities Medoff began teaching English at New Mexico State University in 1966 – where he was later co-founder of the American Southwest Theatre Company – and was still employed there at the time of his death. He also taught at Florida State University and the University of Houston.

He wrote his first play, The Wager, in 1967 while teaching and came to attention in 1974 with the Obie award-winning When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?, a hostage drama set in a remote New Mexico diner. It was subsequently filmed in 1979.

Following the success of Children of a Lesser God, he forged a creative partnership with the deaf actor Phyllis Frelich, who had also won a Tony award for her role in the Broadway premiere. Several of his later plays were written with her in mind, including The Hands of Its Enemy (1986), Gila (1998) and Road to a Revolution (2001).

An occasional director and actor, he was last seen on stage as Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the Rio Grande Theater, Las Cruces in 2015.

Mark Medoff was born on March 18, 1940, and died on April 23, aged 79.

Children of a Lesser God review at Studio 54, New York – ‘an absorbing revival’

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