Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Paul MacWhorter


The DC theatrical community first lost Paul in 2006, when he immigrated to Canada with his husband Dan Lawson. At that time, he left behind a collection of friends and colleagues with whom he had worked for a whopping 35 years. He attended Georgetown University in the early 70s, launching a DC career which included acting, directing, producing, and teaching. He became an accomplished playwright, furnishing the Washington Theatre Festival at Source Theatre with several one-acts and a full-length play, At the Rim of a Purple Volcano, which won a prestigious GLAAD award in 2002.

Paul's greatest gift seemed to be the ability to inspire creative work in others. He formed a long-standing creative relationship with director Jose Carasquillo, with whom he co-directed a number of well-received works such as Metamorphosis, Blood Wedding, and Medea at Washington Shakespeare Company, and A Language of Their Own at Studio Theatre's SecondStage. As I researched this obit (I regret that Paul was not a personal friend of mine), one particular project has popped up several times, a one-act play he directed called Aubergine Days; Carasquillo calls it the most moving one-act he has ever seen. The production ran as part of the Washington Theatre Festival in the mid-90s and cemented a working relationship between Paul, actor Steve Carpenter, and playwright Roy Berkowitz which continued for several subsequent years (Helen Hayes Award-winning actress Rena Cherry Brown often joined the fun). When Paul expressed an interest in stepping back onstage, he and Steve swapped positions (that's not as provocative as it sounds), and Steve directed Paul in one of Roy's ten-minute plays, Tough Stains, which became another award winner. (The above pic is from Steve's wedding; Paul is wearing glasses.)

This all sounds very clique-ish, and indeed, it seems Paul maintained very close ties to a handful of people, but his influence was much more far-reaching. As an actor, he appeared on many DC stages, including Washington Shakespeare Company, Actors Theatre of Washington, Olney Theatre Center, Foundry Players, and Rorschach Theatre, to name a few. (The pic above is from WSC's Marat/Sade; Paul is seated on the floor, to the left of the central couple.) Like just about all DC theatrical artists, he subsidized his income with a day job; he worked for 31 years at Arnold & Porter, a local law firm.

As I mentioned, I did not know Paul well, only having met him two or three times. But he was always warm and supportive during those brief encounters. I specifically remember his enthusiastic response to Thief River, a production in which I appeared and which was directed by our mutual buddy Steve Carpenter. If it seems like DC theatre is a bit incestuous, well, it kind of is. But in a good way.

For over 20 years, Paul waged a courageous battle against HIV, receiving the newest drugs in their earliest stages. The treatments took their physical toll (though not on his biceps...this guy had GUNS), and the DC theatrical community lost Paul for a second and final time. He died from AIDS related complications July 18, at the age of 56.

There are tentative plans for a DC memorial service for Paul, but in the meantime, Paul himself requested that his loved ones remember him by making a contribution to the Canadian medical facility which prolonged his life. To make a contribution, please go here.