by Chris Davis
Thou'lt come no
more, never, never, never, never, never!—Shakespeare's King Lear
Laurie Cook McIntosh took her final curtain call on Monday, June 15. The great actor (who was also a great fundraiser for organizations like LeBonheur Children’s Medical Hospital and Planned Parenthood) was 56 years old. She had been battling cancer for nearly 23 years.
In the make believe glitter and greasepaint world of regional theater McIntosh, a spunky red haired dynamo with a gift for understatement, had uncommon guts. She took risks, looked for challenging material and dared to be substantial. She will be remembered for her contributions to landmark local productions of Sea Marks, Two Rooms, The Laramie Project, and Book of Days, and also for her comic turns plays like The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 and You Can't Take it With You. In Third—her last play, which closed only a month ago— she drew on personal experiences to play a fragile but formidable cancer survivor putting anger and confusion behind her in order to live.
“Third has now transcended into one of those mythological, milestone, life-changing, major turning point, never-to-be-forgotten, pre-ordained, god-sent, downright holy theatre experiences,” says actor Ron Gephart, who played Third's King Lear-inspired father figure. Backstage at Circuit Playhouse he confessed to McIntosh that he found it hard to be portray a man with Alzheimer's because his dad had suffered with the condition for so long and he asked if she also found the play emotionally difficult. She told him it was “tough missing cookouts and being with the family” because of rehearsals and shows.
“Talk about the old Ostrander spirit!” Gephart marveled, name-checking the versatile character actor Jim Ostrander, the namesake for Memphis' annual theater awards. Ostrander, who died in 2002, performed in hundreds of plays and continued to perform after cancer necessitated the removal of much of his lower jaw.
McIntosh, the daughter of Memphis broadcast pioneer Fred Cook has been acting on local stages since 1959 when she appeared as a six-year-old “no-neck monster” in Front Street Theater’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She even met her husband and frequent acting partner Robert McIntosh while performing in Theatre Memphis' Little Theatre production of All the King's Men.
“Memphis stages are going to be darker from now on because she won't be on them,” says Memphis character actress Jo Lynn Plamer, remembering when she met a “cute, pretty, very talented little 16 year old girl named Laurie Cook” 41 years ago when they were both cast in a production of Show Boat. Thirty years later the actresses reunited to perform in a special, award winning production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Theatre Memphis.
“The integrity she displayed in her performances was, of course, evident in her life,” says Anastasia Herin who directed McIntosh in Beauty Queen. “She was loving and brave and taught us how to live fearlessly in the face of death.”
A memorial will be held on June 18th from 6-8 p.m. at Memphis Funeral Home. Instead of flowers donations may be sent to Memphis Arts Council or the National Parks Foundation.