Although some of his early works found their way to the Off-Broadway circuit, Mark Medoff’s real achievement rests with his Tony Award-winning Children of a Lesser God, the first major play since The Miracle Worker to depict deafness onstage, but unique in that the play was written to be played by a deaf actress, Phyllis Frelich. Written in a stunning dramaturgical style, in which the speeches are signed in American Sign Language, Medoff explores not only the love story of the two protagonists but also the hidden assumptions about “being different” that can result in prejudices in the “normal” person.
The 1980 Tony Award was added to the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award the same year; it was Medoff’s second Outer Critics Circle Award, the first coming from When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?, which also won an Obie Award and the Jefferson Award. A Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974-1975 allowed Medoff to pursue his writing while holding a faculty position at New Mexico State University. The film version of his play has also garnered many awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actress.
However, Medoff should not be categorized as simply the author of a moving, popular play. Throughout his career, he has examined masculinity and the victimization of women, the contemporary state of the American West, and the way people are tempted by ambition and competitiveness even though these drives can more often than not be bad for their character. Medoff pioneered the dramatic exploration of a sort of Western identity that became very much in the air in the 1970’s. This is a vision of the American West inflected by defeat and disillusionment in Vietnam and the contemporaneous social changes taking place on the home front, but that still retains a sense of the old mythic themes of the West, such as the vastness of the landscape, an epic stoicism, and a cleansing violence.