Children of a Lesser God
by Mark Medoff
Children of a Lesser God is a play by Mark Medoff, published in 1980 focusing on the conflicted professional and romantic relationship between deaf former student, Sarah Norman, and her teacher, James Leeds. 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, who insisted that the male role needed to be played by a more experienced professional actor.
Following a highly-successful run at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the Broadway production, directed by Gordon Davidson, opened on March 30, 1980 at the Longacre Theatre, 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.
In 1981, the West End production ran originally at the Mermaid Theatre, then at the Albery Theatre, garnering three Olivier Awards. 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.
Opening & Closing Dates
Type & Version
Mar 30, 1980 – May 16, 1982
Play / Original
Longacre Theatre, NY, USA
Opening Night Cast
|Phyllis Frelich||Sarah Norman|
|John Rubinstein||James Leeds|
|Scotty Bloch||Mrs. Norman|
|William Frankfather||Mr. Franklin|
|Lucy Martin||Edna Klein|
|Lewis Merkin||Orin Dennis|
Opening Night Production Crew
“…This sincere melodrama about a speech therapist, James Leeds (Jeffry Denman), who falls in love with one of his deaf students, Sarah Norman (the luminous Alexandria Wailes), receives an articulate if bloodless staging by Blake Lawrence. The central conflict of Mark Medoff’s play is on whose terms the romance will exist: will Sarah learn how to read lips and talk, as James wants her to, or communicate only in sign language (what she calls a “silence full of sound”)?. This drama offered an unusual peek into the deaf world when it opened in 1979 at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, but its novelty has worn off since it found success on Broadway and in Hollywood, picking up the Tony Award for best play and a handful of Oscar nominations (including a best-actress win for Marlee Matlin). But there is no denying the emotional force of the play’s second act, in which the tension over the divide between the two worlds hits its boiling point. NY Times 03/22/2006 Revival
Awards and Nominations
- 1980 Drama Desk Award Outstanding New Play
- 1981 Laurence Olivier Award for Best new Play
- 1980 Tony Award for Best Play
- Botto, Louis (2002). Playbill: At This Theatre. Applause Books. ISBN 1557835667.
- “Olivier Winners 1981“. The Official London Theatre Guide:. 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-19.
- Children of a Lesser God at the Internet Broadway Database