The Johns Hopkins Gazette: July 7, 2003
July 7, 2003
VOL. 32, NO. 39


Obituary: Laurlene Pratt, Longtime Director of Theatre Hopkins, Dies at 91

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Laurlene Straughn Pratt, former director of Theatre Hopkins, died on June 21 of pneumonia after a long illness. She was 91.

Pratt was born in Baltimore and graduated from high school in Washington, D.C. After receiving her bachelor's degree in 1934 from Western Maryland College, where she studied music, French and education, Pratt pursued her interest in theater with the Vagabond Players, playing opposite Tom Morefit, who later took the name Gary Moore for his radio and television work. She also became a protege of N. Bryllion Fagin at The Hopkins Playshop, which he had helped found at The Johns Hopkins University.

Laurlene Pratt in a c.1980 photograph

After her father, Rev. James H. Straughn, was ordained a Methodist Bishop in 1939, Pratt moved with her parents to Pittsburgh, where she received a master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1943. Two months later, she married Robert William Pratt; he died suddenly in 1946, shortly after the birth of their only child, Suzanne. Pratt moved with her parents and baby to Washington D.C., where she became a faculty member of the English Department at American University and received an award as "most capable teacher."

Returning to Baltimore in 1951, she taught for one year at Towson State Teacher's College before embarking on her distinguished career as a teacher at Forest Park High School, where she created a widely respected theater curriculum. During her 15 years as a full-time teacher, her mainstage productions included Lilliom, R.U.R., The Skin of Our Teeth, The Bourgeois Gentilhomme, The Madwoman of Chaillot, All My Sons and Mother Courage.

Her work with some of Baltimore's most able students on projects like The Caine Mutiny and Waiting for Godot attracted the attention of New York director Alan Schneider, who came to see her work. Her students included Kenny Weissman and Maxine Fox, future producers of the musical Grease, and a quiet young man who worked on the tech crew of several productions, Barry Levinson. In the late '80s, as a token of his affection and respect for his former teacher, the noted filmmaker invited Pratt to be his guest on the set during the filming of Tin Men in Baltimore.

Toward the end of her career at Forest Park, Pratt was especially proud of productions whose texts she created herself, including Africana in 1967 and Runaway in 1968.

In 1969, Pratt was approached by Ed Golden, the founder of Baltimore's Center Stage and director of Theatre Hopkins (formerly the Playshop), to consider taking his place as director. The 15-year career that ensued reflected the same superior artistry that had characterized her tenure at Forest Park. Between 1969 and 1984 she directed four plays in each thematically related season.

Notable among these was a two-year retrospective anthology of American drama, in 1975 and 1976. The opening production of the first year, titled As We Were, included excerpts from 19th- and early-20th-century works, including Our American Cousin, now associated with Abraham Lincoln's death, and a memorable production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town presented in the garden of Evergreen House.

Other outdoor presentations included her own adaptations of the Indian tale Shakuntala and Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat. Memorable productions at the Homewood campus' Barn Theatre included Chekhov's The Seagull; Ben Jonson's Volpone; Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet; Jerome Kilty's Dear Liar; Hugh Leonard's Da; Frederich Durrenmatt's Play Strindberg; and A.R. Gurney's The Dining Room.

In addition to her career as a director, Pratt taught at UMBC and Johns Hopkins. When she retired from Theatre Hopkins in 1984, her daughter, Suzanne Pratt, was appointed artistic director.

A memorial service was held on June 26 at Little Baker Chapel on the campus of McDaniel College, formerly Western Maryland College.