Oct. 22, 1944 – May 6, 2020
Lorena “Lori” McDonald, active as a costume designer, director and fundraiser in Buffalo theaters, died May 6 in Southbury, Conn., from complications of Covid-19 after a period of declining health. She was 75.
She and her husband, Terence McDonald, an associate professor who taught acting, theater and film at SUNY Buffalo State College, established the Playhouse of American Classics, which for several seasons presented long-neglected plays at the Buffalo History Museum.
Born Lorena Brown in Washington, D.C., she grew up in Holbrook, Ariz., near Petrified Forest National Park, where her father owned a pharmacy, and attended high school in Mesa, Ariz.
She was active in theater while earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of Arizona in Tucson, then moved to Los Angeles with friends and worked in costume design for television shows, notably “Hollywood Squares.”
She then landed an assistantship in the Theater Department at the University of Connecticut and completed a master’s degree in directing. There she saw Terence McDonald, tap dancing along a street with a friend, and resolved to meet him. Soon they were playing opposite one another in a production of Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan.”
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“She was Lady Windermere and I was Lord Darlington,” McDonald said. “In the play, he doesn’t get her, but in real life, I did.”
They were married on July 4, 1968. According to her husband, “It was the only day we could get off from playing summer stock.”
When he went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, to earn his master’s degree in theater, she ran the costume shop in the Theater Department.
She was a set designer for Studio Arena Theatre after they came to Buffalo in 1972 and worked with the newly established Theatre of Youth, first as a customer and designer, then as a fundraiser and managing director. She later returned to Studio Arena as interim director of development.
Drawn to New York City, she became an assistant vice president with the United Way of Tri-State, then was director of development for Adelphi University, the Joffrey Ballet and John Houseman’s theater, The Acting Company.
Moving on to the Brooklyn Center at Brooklyn College, she updated the computer system. There she and her husband presented plays with the first Playhouse of American Classics.
She then took teaching positions, giving computer instruction to students in private schools and in public schools in Harlem and the Bronx, before returning to Buffalo in 1995. Her teaching experiences inspired a play, “War Stories,” which was the centerpiece of a 1999 symposium on violence at Buffalo State.
“I wrote this screenplay for my students,” she told Buffalo News reporter Louise Continelli in 1999, “for my third-grader whose mother punished him by breaking his fingers, for my fourth-grader who wrote of her brother molesting her, for all the cigarette burns, the black eyes and cut cheeks and all the hair pulled out by the roots.”
Mrs. McDonald assisted her husband in establishing CADET, the Center for the Application of Drama to Education and Technology, at Buffalo State.
In 2007, they revived the Playhouse of American Classics here with a production of Jesse Lynch Williams’ irreverent 1917 comedy, “Why Marry?,” the first dramatic work to win a Pulitzer Prize. A variation on readers’ theater, in which the actors carry scripts, they called it “Chamber Theater.”
“We would rehearse the shows as long as a full production,” her husband said, “but we could do it without props.”
Residents of Buffalo and later the Town of Tonawanda, she and her husband moved to Connecticut in 2014.
Survivors also include two sons, Jason and Ryan; a brother, Troy Brown; and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be streamed on Zoom at 2 p.m. May 31.