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Las Crucens play active role in Medoff-directed film

Las Crucens were found in large numbers on the set of a new film, "Children on Their Birthdays," which Mark Medoff recently directed in Chicago.

Mark Medoff gives instruction to his daughter Rachel Harrison and her husband Bobby Harrison, both Las Cruces natives, on the set of a new film, "Children on Their Birthdays," which he recently directed in Chicago. (Courtesy photo.)

"This was one of those instances where it didn't hurt to have a connection," said Medoff, resident playwright and theater professor emeritus at New Mexico State University. "Many of the people on the set attended or graduated from NMSU or have worked on projects on the campus or in Las Cruces."

The film, set in 1947 Alabama, details the experiences of two 13-year-old boys who fall in love for the first time -- with the same girl.

Medoff said he thinks the film "will appeal to anyone who's ever fallen in love for the first time, which should make for pretty good audience potential." He expects to complete his editing on the project by Thanksgiving and the film will be released next year.

Jesse Gonzalez, a 2000 graduate of New Mexico State's theater arts department, was Medoff's assistant on the set and Paul Quaintance, a 1991 graduate of the theater arts department, has a featured speaking role in the film.

"I really like it when I can use our kids," Medoff said. "And I like it better when they acquit themselves as superbly as these did."

Medoff's family also was involved in the project -- his daughters, one of his sons-in-law and his grandsons are in the film.

His daughter Jessica Medoff and her friend Don Groves, both of whom graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1997 and started their initial voice training at New Mexico State, and his son-in-law Bobby Harrison, a 1998 New Mexico State music graduate, sing in the film. Medoff's daughter Rachel Harrison, a 1995 graduate of Las Cruces High School and 2000 graduate of the International Academy of Merchandising and Design in Chicago, is a featured extra in the movie. His daughter Debra Marks, a 1991 New Mexico State theater arts graduate, and her sons Kagan and Mason also are in the movie.

Others on the set for the film have worked on projects on the campus. Actor and scenic designer Bob Steinberg acted as interpreter for his wife Phyllis Frelich, for whom Medoff wrote his Tony Award-winning play "Children of a Lesser God." Frelich plays one of the leading adult roles in the film.

Steinberg and Frelich have been in Las Cruces for four other projects since they first came in 1979 to premiere "Children of a Lesser God," most recently in 1999 for the American Southwest Theatre Company's production of "A Christmas Carousel," Medoff said.

The film includes Tom Arnold, Chris McDonald ("Family Law") and Sheryl Lee. Lee spent a month in Las Cruces in 1995 for the filming of "Homage," written by Medoff and directed by his son-in-law Ross Marks, a 1991 New Mexico State theater arts graduate.

"Children on Their Birthdays" is a story about love and morality and what happens when special people enter and exit our lives. It tells the story of teen-agers Billy Bob Murphy and Preacher Star, who fall in love with Miss Lily Bobbitt of Memphis, Tenn., who steps off the bus in Medda, Ala., and into the hearts of the two best friends.

Medoff began collaborating on the project in 1995 with Ginger Perkins, who produced the film for Crusader Entertainment, which specializes in family films. The screenplay is written by Douglas Sloan based on a short story by Truman Capote.

Medoff said he is used to starting his projects at New Mexico State and has always been encouraged by the community to do his work here first.

He plans to continue that tradition later this month when he will premiere his first opera, "Sara McKinnon," at the university's Music Center Recital Hall. Medoff wrote the libretto and Randall Shinn, professor of theory and composition at Arizona State University, composed the music.

For more information about the opera, which will run July 27-Aug. 5, call (505) 646-1993.