Monday, July 7, 2008

John MacDonald

My hands are shaking as I write these unbelievable words. My new friend John MacDonald, the artistic director of the Washington Stage Guild, passed away yesterday. The cause of death has not yet been determined.
I have to admit that this entry is really more about me than John. I'm afraid that if I begin to write only about John, his accomplishments, his accolades, and his legacy, I'll never get through the night.

Until about two years ago, our paths crossed only rarely. The Stage Guild, which John founded over 20 years ago, maintained a fairly secure resident company of actors, so the opportunities for an interloper like me to audition for the group were rare. Still, ever since I relocated to DC over a decade ago, I had a strong desire to work with the WSG, which specializes in the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. Literate, language-heavy plays are right up my alley.

It took a completely different venue for me to finally be introduced, in a genuine way, to the creative force known as John MacDonald. About two years ago (maybe three?), I was invited by the Stage Guild's leading actor, Bill Largess, to participate in a staged reading of a musical, of all things. The piece was 1776, and five performances of the show were being planned to celebrate the reopening of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, which had been closed for years undergoing renovations. This reading was not affiliated with the Stage Guild, but the cast included many WSG regulars, including its artistic director, John. Turns out John was a forceful actor, as well as director, and the two of us hit it off quite well.

At about the same time, my grad school buddy Steve Carpenter, who had directed me before, approached me about appearing in his planned production of "Opus," which was to be produced by the Stage Guild. Nine months later, I found myself being welcomed into the WSG fold as we started rehearsals.

John, as artistic director, resisted the temptation of many other artistic directors, and pretty much left us alone during our rehearsal period. He popped in for our designer runthrough, and after the rehearsal, he made a point of pulling me aside to compliment me on my work, particularly in my scene with our leading lady, Kathleen Coons. His warm words to me cemented my affection for this large, imposing man who never let his position as artistic director circumvent the vision of our show's director, Steve.

As I've mentioned in several previous posts, Opus was a great success. Since then, I have been included in many of the Guild's staged readings, and I have begun to feel that WSG may be an artistic home for me. John had everything to do with that feeling.

I know I will be writing more about him in the coming days, but until then, here's a lovely pic of John, relaxing at home during the Opus cast party. Appropriately, he is being partially blocked by a bottle of Jameson's, which is a part of the Stage Guild tradition.

You left too soon, John.