Marshall W. Mason is one of America’s great stage directors. His most famous work was done in New York City, but for 10 years he was a member of the theater faculty at Arizona State University. His work with playwright Lanford Wilson is the longest collaboration in American theater history, encompassing more than 60 plays and a friendship that endured until Wilson’s death.
Marshall was born Feb. 20, 1940 in Amarillo, Texas. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Northwestern University, graduating in 1961 and moving almost immediately to New York.
He hit the ground running in his chosen profession. At Northwestern, he directed a legendary production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He was 19. In 1964, after three years working off-off-Broadway, he captured the attention of critics with a revival of Henrik Ibsen’s Little Eyoff.
A year later, he began working with Wilson. Their first production together was Balm in Gilead, followed by The Hot l Baltimore, Fifth of July, Talley’s Folly, Angels Fall, Burn This, Redwood Curtain and Book of Days, among others.
In 1969, Marshall founded the Circle Repertory Company with Wilson, director Rob Thirkield and actress Tanya Berezin. The company became one of the most influential American troupes, noted for its presentation of new works.
The four had met at Caffe Cino, the restaurant cum theater that gave rise to the off-off Broadway movement. It is said that with the work at Caffe Cino and Circle Rep, American theater entered the modern era. The companies were among the first, for example, to present work with homosexual themes.
Besides Wilson, the Rep’s playwrights included Jon Robin Baitz, Michael Christofer, Jules Feiffer, Herb Gardner, A.R. Gurney, William M. Hoffman, Albert Innaurato, Arthur Kopit, Jim Leonard Jr., Craig Lucas, David Mamet, William Mastrosimone, Mark Medoff, Marsha Norman, Robert Patrick,Joe Pintauro, Murray Schisgal, Sam Shepard, Paula Vogel and Tennessee Williams.
The company also nurtured the careers of a number of actors, including William Hurt, Kathy Bates, Beatrice Straight, Christopher Reeve, Jeff Daniels, Judd Hirsch, Swoosie Kurtz, Lindsay Crouse, Brad Dourif, Conchata Ferrell, Barnard Hughes, Judith Ivey, Cherry Jones, Joe Mantello, Debra Monk, David Morse, Cynthia Nixon, Tony Roberts, Richard Thomas, Fritz Weaver and Patricia Wettig.
Others who worked with the troupe were Joan Allen, Alec Baldwin, Olympia Dukakis, Laurence Fishburne, Scott Glenn, Farley Granger, Ed Harris, Melissa Joan Hart, Timothy Hutton, Piper Laurie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Christine Lahti, John Malkovich, Demi Moore, Mary-Louise Parker and Gary Sinise.