The groundbreaking “Children of a Lesser God” catapulted playwright Mark Medoff into international fame in the 1980s. His current project as director of “The Men of Mah Jongg” is enjoying its world premiere at Queens Theatre in the Park.
A View from the Cliff: You are a Tony Award winning playwright, Oscar nominated screenwriter, educator, actor and so much more. How has your incredible record of accomplishment prepared you to direct this project?
Medoff: I’ve always loved directing, especially new work. The collaboration of separate spirits sharing the journey of a play’s fate is a fabulous team sport. (Playwright) Richard (Atkins) has been a great partner and become a great friend. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve turned a lot of my time to trying to help younger playwrights in the development process, directing workshops of quite a few new plays.
View: Your contributions to American culture are so deep. How would you most like to be remembered?
Medoff: I’ve always said, “Children of a Lesser God” is benediction and epitaph. I’d like to be remembered both as an artist and a teacher. I didn’t expect early in my teaching career to stay with it after I no longer needed the financial support. But teaching has proved to be - and remains - immensely satisfying. And, at my advancing age, I actually know a few things worth passing along, whereas in my late twenties, I pretended to teach and knew nothing!
View: The play has been described as a variation on “The Odd Couple.” Is that accurate?
Medoff: There aren’t any new plots I don’t think. So things that are familiar are made unique by the voice of the author. Richard has a richly dramatic sense of humor; his characters are flawed - just the way the rest of us are - but compassionate in spite of themselves. We cringe, we laugh, and we love them.
View: Of the four characters in “Mah Jongg” to which do you most closely relate?
Medoff: As the director - just like the writer - it’s important for me to love them all equally. I’m invested in each because of what each lends the whole. The beauty of working on a new play is you bring actors, designers and a director to a playwright and try to create something greater than the sum of its individual parts.
View: How has working with Mr. Atkins affected you?
Medoff: Richard is open to discussion, knows how to listen, wants to improve the play and is fearless in trying new things. He understands the journey we’re on is long; he’s in for the long haul. And of course he’s a fabulous piano player, which seems irrelevant on its face but is actually important. He hears the music of it all!
View: Are there any experiences or anecdotes you might share about Queens?
Medoff: Many of my former students live in Queens. I’m sure I have some residual Queens in me. Probably whatever good qualities I possess. Dealing with the staff at Queens Theatre in the Park has been a complete pleasure.
View: With your lifetime of accomplishment, what advice could you offer young people?
Medoff: There are no great talents dying on the vine in America. Talent will out!!
The “Men of Mah Jongg” is running through December 14. Call 718-760-0064 or go to www.queenstheatre.org for tix.