Mariann Mayberry, an actor of Steppenwolf Theatre Company who originated roles in such plays as August: Osage County, died on Aug. 1 at the age of 52 after a battle with cancer.
I met Mariann in 1986. She was a student at Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington, Ill., and had come to see a play I was in at Illinois State University in the neighboring town of Normal, Ill. If you were a theatre student in the state of Illinois in the mid-80’s, Steppenwolf was the promised land. Mariann and I both began internships at Steppenwolf in the late ’80s and were in our first play there together: A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Steppenwolf Outreach program. Instantaneously, she made her mark. We ended up doing eight plays together over these 30 years.
Mariann was a ferocious actor. Teeming. She never spent a passive moment on stage. She was lit from within. Always energized. Always alight. She was gifted with an astonishing body—beautifully shaped, powerful, versatile, and lithe, like a panther. She could apply her talents equally to such a wide range of work: broad physical theatre (she once lifted a giant onstage), Shakespeare, contemporary realism. When she started out, her work was often marked by an utterly unique quirk, a kind of spritely joy, like a sparkler. As she matured and began to fully inhabit herself, her work took on tremendous gravity and pathos. Among many, her performance in Good People stands as a crowning achievement, and well it should. It simply could not have been better.
It was not always easy standing in the shadows of giants. The original company members at Steppenwolf set a rather high standard (understatement of the century?). There was a toughness in Mariann. She was a fighter. She wanted respect. She was tenacious, dedicated, hard-working—but she was So. Much. Fun.
Anybody who came into her orbit experienced her mischief. I shall never forget that glint in her eye and that infectious, low mischievous laugh she would share, like a little kid about to misbehave and enjoying it thoroughly. She was so very kind. Every time she would see someone she loved, she would say, almost like a song, “Hi, honey…How are ya?”
Mariann had the brightest bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. She carried herself through life with heart, tenacity, joy, and love. So very many people are heartbroken by this loss, none more than her beloved husband, Scott.
Steppenwolf will never be the same.
Ian Barford is a member of Steppenwolf Theatre Company
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