Mark Medoff

children of a
lesser god 

written by Mark Medoff

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Synopsis

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Sarah Norman is a troubled young deaf woman working as a janitor at a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in New England. An energetic new teacher, James Leeds, arrives at the school and encourages her to set aside her insular life by learning how to speak aloud.

As she already uses sign language, Sarah resists James's attempts to get her to talk but she is resistant because of a history of rape. Romantic interest develops between James and Sarah and they are soon living together, though their differences and mutual stubbornness eventually strains their relationship to the breaking point, as he continues to want her to talk, and she feels somewhat stifled in his presence.

Sarah leaves James and goes to live with her estranged mother in a nearby city, reconciling with her in the process. However, she and James later find a way to resolve their differences.

 

 

Characters

Sarah Norman
James Leeds
Orin Dennis
Mr. Franklin
Mrs. Norman
Lydia
Edna Klein

 

 

Film Adaptation

Full cast and additional information available at:

 
 
 
 
 

timeline

 

 
 

APR
2018

Children of a Lesser God returns to Broadway

Mark Medoff's groundbreaking work returns to Broadway for performances at the historic Studio 54 theater. Directed by Kenny Leon and starring Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff.

 

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MAR
2018

Previews begin for Broadway Revival

Mark Medoff's groundbreaking work returns to Broadway for performances at the historic Studio 54 theater. Directed by Kenny Leon and starring Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff.

 

 
 

OCT
1986

Film Adaptation makes US Debut

Children of a Lesser God made its film debut in the US on October 3, 1986. The cast included:

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Marlee Matlin (Sarah Norman)
William Hurt (James Leeds)
Piper Laurie (Mrs. Norman)
Philip Bosco (Dr. Curtis Franklin)
Allison Gompf (Lydia)
Bob Hiltermann (Orin)
Linda Bove (Marian Loesser)

 

The film opened at number 5 at the North American box office with an opening weekend gross of $1,909,084. The film stayed in the Top 10 for eight weeks and grossed a total of $31,853,080 in North America.

 

 
 

SEPT
1986

Film Adaptation Debuts in Toronto

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Enjoying the vast success of his Broadway debut, Medoff, with fellow writer Hesper Anderson, penned a screenplay adapted from the original play.  The adaptation premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13, 1986, starring Marlee Matlin and William Hurt.

 

 
 

NOV
1981

Children of a Lesser God Wins Olivier Award

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Medoff's Children of a Lesser God won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play in 1981. The production was nominated alongside Passion Play (Peter Nicholas), Transformations (Brian Friel), and Quartermaine's Terms (Simon Gray).

 

 
 

AUG
1981

Children of a Lesser God begins West End Run

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The West End production ran originally at the Mermaid Theatre, then at the Albery Theatre. The production starred Trevor Eve and Elizabeth Quinn. Deaf actors from the UK were involved as understudies including Jean St Clair, Sarah Scott and Terry Ruane.

 

 
 

JUN
1980

Children of a Lesser God wins Drama Desk Award

Children of a Lesser God won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play at the 25th Annual Drama Desk Awards. The production was nominated alongside Home (Samm-Art Williams), The Irish Hebrew Lesson (Wolf Mankowitz), Night and Day (TOm Stoppard), Talley's Folley (Lanford Wilson), and Teibele and Her Demon (Isaac Bashevis Singer and Eve Friedman).

 

 
 

JUN
1980

John Rubenstein wins Drama Desk Award

John Rubenstein won a Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in a Play for his portrayal of James Leeds in Children of a Lesser God. He was nominated alongside F. Murray Abraham (Teibele and Her Demon), Philip Bosco (Major Barbara), Charles Brown (Home), Gerald Hilken (Strider), and Judd Hirsch (Talley's Folley).

 

 
 

JUN
1980

Children of a Lesser God wins Tony

Children of a Lesser God won the Tony for Best Play at the 34th Annual Tony Awards. The production was nominated alongside Bent (Martin Sherman), Home (Samm-Art Williams), and Talley's Folley (Lanford Wilson).

Phyllis Frelich and John Rubenstein celebrate the Tony Award for Children of a Lesser God

Phyllis Frelich and John Rubenstein celebrate the Tony Award for Children of a Lesser God

 

 
 

JUN
1980

Phyllis Frelich wins Tony

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Phyllis Frelich won a Tony for Best Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Sarah Norman in Children of a Lesser God. She was nominated alongside Blythe Danner (Betrayal), Maggie Smith (Night and Day), and Anne Twomey (Nuts).

 

 
 

JUN
1980

John Rubenstein wins Tony

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John Rubenstein won a Tony for Best Actor in a Play for his portrayal of James Leeds in Children of a Lesser God. He was nominated alongside Charles Brown (Home), Gerald Hilken (Strider), and Judd Hirsch (Talley's Folley).

 

 
 

MAR
1980

Medoff's Play Premieres on Broadway

Playbill from the Original Broadway Production

Playbill from the Original
Broadway Production

The Broadway production of Children of a Lesser God, directed by Gordon Davidson, opened on March 30, 1980 at the Longacre Theatre in New York City, where it ran for 887 performances. The cast included Phyllis Frelich as Sarah and John Rubinstein as James. David Ackroyd later replaced Rubinstein. Deaf actress Elizabeth Quinn later replaced Frelich, and Linda Bove, another Deaf actress, best known to television audiences for her more-than-20-year-long run on Sesame Street had a successful turn in the role as well.

 

 
 

OCT
1979

Children of a Lesser God Premieres at the Mark Taper Forum

The play was specially written for the Deaf actress Phyllis Frelich, based to some extent on her relationship with her husband Robert Steinberg. It was originally developed from workshops and showcased at New Mexico State University, with Frelich and Steinberg in the lead roles. It was seen by Gordon Davidson, Director of the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

Phyllis Frelich and John Rubenstein in Children of a Lesser God (photo: Martha Swope)

Phyllis Frelich and John Rubenstein in Children of a Lesser God (photo: Martha Swope)