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Mantello, Joe (b. 1962)    
 
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Angels in America

Mantello's acting career culminated in the original Broadway production of Tony Kushner's groundbreaking seven-hour, two-play cycle Angels in America (1993). In both of the play's two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, Mantello portrayed Louis Ironson, a liberal, self-centered Jewish New Yorker who leaves his lover Prior Walter, a gay man struggling with AIDS, and becomes involved with Joe Pitt, a Mormon Republican lawyer struggling with his sexuality.

Frank Rich, in his New York Times review of the play, called Mantello's portrayal of Louis, "a combustible amalgam of puppyish Jewish guilt and self-serving piety."

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Mantello won the 1993 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play and the Clarence Derwent Award for Most Promising Male Actor, and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in Angels in America: Millennium Approaches.

When the play closed on Broadway in December 1994, Mantello all but stopped acting and instead concentrated on his stage directing career.

In contrast to the dependency on others in acting, Mantello said that directing legitimized his desire to exert control. "I like being the person who says, 'We're going north,' if I believe that north is the best way to go," he explained.

Mantello had directed several productions while still concentrating on his acting career. Early directorial efforts included Peter Hedges' Imagining Brad (1989) and Timothy Mason's Babylon Gardens (1991), with Mary Louis Parker, for Circle Repertory, as well as Keith Reddin's Nebraska (1991) and Jon Robin Baitz's Coq au Vin (1991) for Naked Angels.

It was, however, with the highly praised Off Broadway production of Baitz's triple-monologue drama Three Hotels (1993) that Mantello's directing skills were first widely recognized.

Despite the rigor of the play's three-monologue structure, Mantello's direction, "alleviated a frustration that audiences would have had," according to Baitz, and "breathed life into something that might otherwise have been clinical or 20 degrees cooler."

The following year Mantello made his Broadway directing debut with the comedy What's Wrong With This Picture? (1994) by Donald Margulies. The play, unfortunately, was not well received and closed after only 12 performances.

Love! Valour! Compassion!

However, Mantello's next production, of Terrence McNally's 1994 comedy-drama Love! Valour! Compassion! (the title comes from an entry in the writer John Cheever's journals), was enthusiastically received and a sweeping success. The play opened Off Broadway to strong reviews and was transferred four months later to Broadway.

The play concerns a group of eight gay men who form an alternative to the traditional nuclear family and takes place over three major holiday weekends over one summer at an upstate New York summer vacation house.

The New York Times' Vincent Canby noted that the play was "written, directed and acted with such theatrical skill and emotional range that it's as broadly entertaining as it is moving," and that under Mantello's direction "the play sweeps effortlessly along as the characters fall in and out of love, argue, swim, dine, sleep, flirt and talk, which they do especially well."

Mantello was nominated for a 1995 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play and a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play.

In 1996, Mantello was notified by a friend about certain similarities between the staging of Love! Valour! Compassion! by a theater company in Boca Raton, Florida and the original New York production of the show. Mantello promptly flew to Florida, bought a ticket to the play, and began taking notes on any resemblances between the two productions. "I was writing almost continuously," Mantello remarked. "Scene after scene, moment after moment, the staging was identical."

He then initiated legal proceedings against the regional theater company to protect the copyright of "original artistic contributions by directors to a production."

Mantello's lawyer asked the theater company, and their show's director, to acknowledge Mantello's original work and to pay him a nominal fee. They refused, claiming nothing had been copied. When an actual lawsuit was then filed, the defendants decided to settle out of court. Mantello was paid $7,500, which he donated to his union, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.

As a result of Mantello's suit, publishers like Dramatists Play Service no longer include detailed stage directions and other helpful annotations in the scripts they provide to licensees.

Mantello went on to direct the 1997 film adaptation of Love! Valour! Compassion!, with most of the original Broadway cast reprising their roles. To date, this is his only venture into feature filmmaking.

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