A Farewell to Two Drama Department Greats

Contributed by: Gary Williams, associate professor of drama

The Department of Drama this summer said goodbye to two long-time professors who made great contributions to the university and to the theatre; one was known for his love of Irish drama, the other for a talent in costume and set design.

James D. Waring, a professor of drama, died Aug. 2 in Washington, D.C., at the age of 77. Joseph Lewis, a CUA alumnus who served as a professor, costume designer and director in the drama department, died June 16 in Arlington, Va. He was 81.

Professor Waring taught in the department from 1947 to 1988. He staged productions and designed scenery and lighting at CUA and at Olney Theatre, where he was the executive producer from 1969 to 1984 and artistic director from 1985 to 1989. He also directed and designed for Ford's Theatre, the Kennedy Center, the Washington Opera Society, the National Cathedral and National Players. In the 1960s and 1970s, his productions were seen in Dublin, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

A renowned lighting designer, he served as a theater consultant to the White House and was called in to light the bier of President John F. Kennedy when Kennedy lay in state there.

Born in Dubuque, Iowa, Professor Waring graduated from Loras College. He served as an Army Air Force B-29 radio operator during World War II. In 1946, he married and moved to Washington D. C., with his wife, Virginia Michel. While working on his Master of Fine Arts degree in drama at the Catholic University of America, he joined the faculty.

Professor Waring had a special affinity for Irish drama. In 1966-67, he achieved notice for his staging of the American premiere of the Irish writer Hugh Leonard’s Stephen D at Olney Theatre and off-Broadway. The play was an adaptation of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and the production was the first of many collaborations between Mr. Waring and Mr. Leonard, who became one of Ireland's leading playwrights. Mr. Waring directed the premiere of Leonard's Da at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1973, at Olney and at Chicago’s Ivanhoe Theatre.

He designed the sets and lighting for almost every production at CUA for nearly twenty-five years, including those of the drama department's touring affiliate, National Players. At CUA and at the Olney Theatre, he constructed the scenery with his long-time associate, carpenter Charles Ford.

A man of formidable energy and ambition, he frequently worked in two or three theaters at one time. At Olney Theatre alone, he directed 75 plays between 1953 and 1992. He also designed the scenery and lighting for all of these and as many others there. Among the many well-known actors with whom he worked over the years were Philip Bosco, Olympia Dukakis, Dana Elcar, George Grizzard, Pauline Flanagan, Malachy McCourt, Susan Sarandon, Frances Sternhagen and Sam Wanamaker.

Professor Waring is survived by his eight children and 19 grandchildren.

Professor Lewis taught at CUA for more than 34 years. He will be remembered by generations of graduates for his design and construction of elegant costumes and for his courses in playwriting, drama history and period styles.

A tailgunner in the Air Force, Professor Lewis became a prisoner of war in Germany after his plane was shot down. There, he gained his first theater training, staging plays with fellow soldiers in the POW camp.

Following a year in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, he switched to CUA and its growing drama program, where he completed his bachelor's degree in 1949 and his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1952. In 1949, he was a member of the National Players’ first touring company, playing Don John in Much Ado About Nothing.

Still an undergraduate, he designed the costumes for the department's production of King Lear in 1948. Donald Waters, his fellow student in these years and later a faculty colleague, remembers Professor Lewis telling the story that he had never set out to be a costume designer. His true goal was to be a writer, and ultimately he taught playwriting in the department. But continuing in the spirit of so many of his generation of Americans, Professor Lewis did the other work that needed doing in the department, and he did so with rare gifts.

He designed and constructed costumes for hundreds of productions for the Department of Drama, National Players and Olney Theatre. He also designed costumes for the Washington Opera Society, the National Ballet and the Washington Ballet Guild.

At CUA, he designed for plays from almost every major period of Western drama, from Aeschylus’s The Orestia (1956), adapted by fellow faculty member, Leo Brady, to his own staging of Ionesco’s Macbett (1976). He designed for playwrights as different as Sophocles, Molière, John Millington Synge, George Bernard Shaw, Sidney Kingsley and T. S. Eliot.

In the1950-51 season, Professor Lewis designed the costumes for three productions directed by Alan Schneider: Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot ,Othello and Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. In 1956, Professor Lewis designed the costumes for Twelfth Night and for Hamlet..

As a director himself, Professor Lewis staged many comedies of manners, including plays by William Congreve, Richard Sheridan, Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. Professor Lewis also often collaborated on the department’s annual spring revues and musicals, including several by his long-time friend, composer Ed Cashman. For Sweet William (1960), a musical on Shakespeare’s early love life based on a scenario by Dennis Wholley, Professor Lewis and Mr. Cashman wrote the book, Mr. Cashman composed the music and Professor Lewis staged it and designed the costumes.

As a teacher, he supervised many M.F.A. thesis projects in playwriting and costume design. Some evidence of the extent of his humane support to students can be in found in the record for 1965-66, which shows him guiding no fewer than 14 thesis projects. He became an assistant professor in 1957 and a tenured associate professor in 1967.

In 1960-61, Professor Lewis spent eight months in Rhodesia and Zambia for the Department of State's International Exchange Program, lecturing on American theater practices and directing local amateur theater groups. Out of that experience, he wrote an article for the Central African Express, entitled "Theatre Recast," in which he advocated equal theater opportunities for African blacks and collaboration between business and the arts.

In matters of taste and talent, Professor Lewis was absolute. In his capacity for work, he was daunting. About his art, he was always in earnest. For himself, he valued personal modesty and forthrightness. Professor Lewis always knew who he was and was loyal to his friends. And in the Protean theatre, we loved him for that.