Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Mark Howard Medoff was born to educated parents (his father a physician and his mother a psychologist) and was educated at the University of Miami and at Stanford University. Intending to undertake a writing career, he gradually moved toward teaching and found unexpected rewards. While pursuing his professional playwriting career, he advanced in academia, chairing the Department of Drama at New Mexico State University, a position that would allow him to mount college productions of his work before attempting professional productions in the regional or New York market.
Medoff is an adoptive Westerner, which brings his work about the West both advantages and disadvantages. He moved to New Mexico in 1966 after life spent in far more metropolitan areas. Rather than seeing this position as a grim exile to be hurriedly escaped from by obtaining a permanent position at a more conveniently located college, Medoff took New Mexico as an opportunity. He saw that here he had a taproot into the American spirit at its most stark and elemental. Medoff would have been a brilliant playwright in any event, but his living in New Mexico gave him his subject.
Medoff’s relationship with Phyllis Frelich and her husband, Robert Steinberg, began in 1977, when Medoff promised Frelich, an accomplished deaf actress, to write a play for her. The resulting three-year collaboration moved to Broadway after Steinberg and Frelich helped Medoff refine the play’s ideas into...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
As of the early 1970’s Mark Howard Medoff became recognized as one of the most promising American playwrights working in the tradition of mainstream realistic theater. He was the son of Lawrence R. Medoff, a physician, and Thelma Butt, a psychologist. Following his graduation from the University of Miami in 1962 Medoff worked for two years as a supervisor of publications for the Capitol Radio Engineering Institute in Washington, D.C. In 1964 he entered Stanford University and graduated in 1966 with a master’s degree in English. He was then hired by New Mexico State University, Las Cruces.
Medoff’s one-act, experimental Doing a Good One for the Red Man was performed in Las Cruces in 1969. The play examines the encounter between a Native American and an unthinking, middle-of-the-road white couple. Thematically, the play explores the problems of communication, in this case represented by the chance meeting of two very different cultures, and it reveals Medoff’s early interest in the dramatic use of violence. At the end of the play the quiet, stoic Native American suddenly explodes in a frenzy of violence and kills the couple.
His most popular early work was The Wager. First performed in 1967, the play enjoyed a successful run Off-Broadway in 1974, when it was produced at the Eastside Playhouse and proved to be popular with the theatergoing public, though critical opinion was mixed. Some critics thought the play too derivative of the intimate and provoking dramas of Tom Stoppard. In the play the lives of two graduate students and a married couple collide in a narrative of sexual infidelity, impotent communication, and frustrated violence.
The Kramer, another experimental work, received its premiere at the American Observatory Theater in San Francisco. The play explores the destructive effects of blind ambition and selfish power. When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?, performed at the Circle Repertory Theatre in New York in 1973, more clearly echoes the theme and setting of The Wager and did much to solidify Medoff’s reputation. The play is structured...
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Mark Howard Medoff was born in Mount Carmel, Illinois, on March 18, 1940. His father, Lawrence, was a physician, and his mother, Thelma, a psychologist. He earned a B.A. in 1962 from the University of Miami, and an M.A. in English from Stanford in 1966. Medoff has held a number of academic appointments at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, including the position of dramatist-in-residence and chair of the theater arts department. He and his wife, Stephanie, have three daughters.
Medoff has received several awards and honors for his work. In 1974, he won a Guggenheim fellowship in playwriting. He received the Outer Critics Circle Award in 1974 for When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?? and again in 1980 for Children of a Lesser God. Also in 1980 Medoff won the Tony Award for Children of a Lesser God; in 1987 he earned an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay based on the stage play. Gallaudet College, the only liberal arts college for the deaf in the world, recognized Medoff's achievement for Children of a Lesser God with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1981.