Category: Archive

James Waring, champion of Irish theater, dies

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

James D. Waring, for decades one of the theater’s most enthusiastic and productive champions of Irish plays and playwrights in the United States, died at Sibley Hospital in Washington, D.C., on August 2.

Waring, 77, was a major stage figure, particularly in the Washington area, for the outstanding productions he directed, and often designed, for the celebrated Drama Department of the city’s renowned Catholic University of America, where he served as professor from 1947 until 1988, when he retired.

If anything, Waring was even more highly acclaimed for his work at Olney Theatre, Olney, Md, long the summer home of Catholic U’s theater professionals and students. As executive director from 1969 through 1984, and artistic director from 1985 to 1989, Waring put Olney on the map as more than merely a casual summer playhouse, and, through the strength and innovativeness of his productions, kept it there.

Among Waring’s foremost claims to fame was his long and avid association with the writer Hugh Leonard, whose plays he virtually introduced to American audiences, beginning in the 1966-67 season when he produced and directed “Stephen D” at Olney, after which it transferred to New York for an acclaimed off-Broadway run, with Stephen Joyce, one of the director’s favorite actors, in the title role.

In Washington, Waring also directed and designed for Ford’s Theatre, the Kennedy Center, the Washington Opera Society, the National Cathedral and the National Players.

Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo

Subscribe to one of our great value packages.

In 1964, when he was 42, Waring directed the American premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” distinctly an odd item to find at a modest summer theater in the Maryland countryside.

Richard Coe, the late critic emeritus of the Washington Post, described Waring as “far and away, one of the finest directors working in New York, London, you-name-it.” Actress Pauline Flanagan goes even further, calling Waring, with whom she’d collaborated during 25 years, “the best director I’ve ever worked with.”

Actress Frances Sternhagen, a Washingtonian whose earliest work was done in various theaters around the city, remembers Waring as an unusually kind and relaxed man. “He was easygoing and extremely honest,” she said, “and he always managed to give you a feeling that he didn’t have a worry in the world, but since I know he had eight children, he must have had plenty on his mind at all times.”

In the eulogy he delivered at Waring’s funeral, Gary Jay Williams, professor of theater history and associate chair of the department of drama at Catholic University and longtime associate of the director, said, “Nothing gave Jim Waring more pleasure than mounting a production that could take an audience out of themselves, unless it was a rehearsal situation with wonderful, imaginative actors like Philip Bosco and Frances Sternhagen and Pauline Flanagan, actors creative enough to make it all happen the way he dreamed it might be.”

James D. Waring was born in Dubuque, Iowa, and graduated from Loras College there. After serving in the Army Air Force as a B-29 radio operator in World War II, he married and moved to Washington, D.C., with his wife, the former Virginia Michel of St. Louis. While working on his master of fine arts degree in drama at Catholic University, he joined the faculty there and worked alongside Leo Brady, Josephine Callan, Walter Kerr and Joseph Lewis.

In addition to those already mentioned, the noted actors with whom he worked, or whom he taught or otherwise influenced, include Olympia Dukakis, George Grizzard, Marcia Gay Harden, Malachy McCourt, Ruby Holbrook, Anne Revere and Susan Sarandon.

During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, James D. Waring was a theater consultant to the White House, and, as such, he was called in to light the bier of President John F. Kennedy when the slain President lay in state there.

Waring’s wife died in 1995. He is survived by six daughters, two sons, nineteen grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and his three sisters.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese