MARK AND STEPHANIE MEDOFF'S home has seen a lot of drama. The Mediterranean-style manse, situated on five acres in the Las Cruces neighborhood of Mesilla Park, has been the setting for wakes, weddings, anniversaries, and birthday celebrations both real and imagined. “We’ve probably had 300 to 400 readings of plays and movies around our dining room table over 35 years,” says Mark.
The home, with its art-filled great room, is also a perfect setting for elegant soirées, and over the years has become a favorite haunt for friends, students, and colleagues. “They’ve hosted so many benefits and gatherings for the arts and cultural community there,” says Irene Oliver-Lewis, a longtime friend who starred in one of Medoff’s first hits, When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? Among the stars and muses who were frequent houseguests was the late actress Phyllis Frelich, who helped inspire Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God heroine that earned her a Tony Award, and then an Academy Award for Marlee Matlin, who re-created the role in the 1986 film.
The six-bedroom, six-bath home might be an unexpected place to find a playwright, director, and author who’s garnered Tony, Drama Desk, and Obie Awards, a New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, and an Oscar nomination. But it is where Medoff wrote more than 30 plays—many of which premiered in Las Cruces. Most recently, his Broadway-bound Marilee and Baby Lamb, about Marilyn Monroe and seamstress Lena Pepitone, premiered at the Rio Grande Theatre. Parts of his award-winning 2009 film Children on Their Birthdays, based on a Truman Capote short story, were filmed in and around the home, as were several other full-length movies written and directed by Medoff.
After growing up in Ohio and Florida, then graduating from Stanford University, he came to Las Cruces to teach at NMSU. When his career took off, the couple pondered relocating to Los Angeles or New York, but decided they wanted to remain in Las Cruces. They raised three daughters, Debra, Rachel, and Jessica, on the estate. “While incredibly ornate and spacious, it has always felt intimate and homey to me,” says Ross Marks, a director, playwright, and faculty member at NMSU’s Creative Media Institute for Film & Digital Arts. Medoff helped found the institute and teaches there as a senior fellow.
“We all love the house,” daughter Debra says. “My daughter Grace says it’s her favorite place in the world, and she wants to be married there like her mom and her aunt Rachel were.”
“Everybody was always welcome,” Rachel adds. “For such a large, beautiful home, it could have been more like a museum, but it was never a place you couldn’t touch or feel comfortable.”
In the hands of their creative parents, even major renovations were fun. Since buying the house in 1980, they’ve moved and expanded the original swimming pool and completed four additions, including bedrooms and a library. The main floor is large enough that kids and grandkids have occasionally used it for roller skating and skateboarding.
“I think a closet is the only thing that’s still original to the house,” Mark says. When planning the renovations and additions, including the great room that replaced the original swimming pool, they wanted it to welcome family, guests, and community gatherings. An embellished, Renaissance-style fireplace mantel, designed by Las Cruces interior designer Connie Hines, soars up two stories from the living room. Hines also designed the dining room bar and bookcase, a coffee table and sofa table, and a desk in the master bedroom. Off the great room, a split-level family media room has become a favorite for kids’ gatherings, homework sessions, and occasional performances. Paintings, sculpture, and furnishings were inspired by the couple’s love for New Mexico and by Mark’s projects.
“We really live here” is a line the couple repeats frequently during a tour of the home. As if to prove it, Mark quickly pauses in the master bedroom to change the diaper of his youngest granddaughter, Hope, before moving on to the adjoining exercise room and then the kitchen, where little Hope enjoys a snack.
Medoff’s creations and inspirations are reflected throughout the home. The “library” (his study and office) has playbills and needlework pillows commemorating his works. Stained-glass windows of personal literary heroes, including William Faulkner and Charlotte Brontë, are slated for return after the most recent round of renovations. He once did most of his writing here, but these days, creation is a movable process.
“Today, I’m writing at the kitchen table, but I take my tablet and write almost anywhere in the house,” he says.
Inspirational vistas fill and surround the house. An engrossing painting by El Paso’s Robert Carlson portrays Mark and Stephanie, along with the Medoff daughters and their spouses, all as children, playing together. Mark says a dream inspired both the painting and a song, “As Children We Dream,” a ballad from Medoff’s first opera, Sara McKinnon.
Every nook and cranny of the home is as original and imaginative as the residents. There are window seats and inspiring outlooks and quiet havens. Mementos of talented family members and friends are everywhere. Upstairs, two trompe l’oeil rooms were painted by a childhood friend of the daughters. A skylight created by longtime Medoff friend and collaborator Bob Diven features murals inspired by a trip to Italy with the University Singers. The second-floor balcony holds a large marionette he and Stephanie purchased there.
“The piano in the living room is my father’s,” Mark says. “I have many fond memories of him playing at night when my brother and I were little and in bed. He played us to sleep, a lot of Chopin.”
For nearly four decades, family, friends, and the community at large have made memories of their own in the Medoff home, and the owners wouldn’t have it any other way. On this patch of New Mexican soil, they’ve established deep roots.
“I came here by accident,” Mark says, “but we stayed by choice.”
S. Derrickson Moore is featured in “Storytellers,” p. 8.