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Mark Medoff, ‘Children of a Lesser God’ Playwright, Dies at 79

Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79.

His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer.

“Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich in the original 1980 Broadway production, though the play was first staged at New Mexico State and then in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum. The pair played a deaf woman and a speech therapist at a state school for the deaf who try to build a relationship despite difficulties in understanding each other’s perspectives.

Medoff, who wrote more than 30 plays, crafted “Children of a Lesser God” after speaking with the deaf Frelich, who explained the lack of substantive roles for deaf actors on stage. She and her husband, Robert Steinberg, advised Medoff as he worked on the play.

The play went on to win the Tony for best play in 1980, as well as the best actress Tony for Frelich and best actor for her co-star Rubinstein.

“Children of a Lesser God” was also adapted into a film in 1986. Marlee Matlin, who took on Frelich’s role, won an Oscar for best female performance for her portrayal. Medoff and Hesper Anderson received Oscar noms for best original screenplay. According to Matlin, Medoff insisted her role be played by a deaf actress.

Medoff is survived by his wife, Stephanie Thorne, whom he married in 1972; two other daughters, Rachel Harrison and Debra Medoff Marks; and eight grandchildren.

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