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Mantello, Joe (b. 1962)    
 
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With his strong visual sense and commitment to collaboration, the actor-turned-director Joe Mantello has emerged as one of the most accomplished artists working in the American theater. He has staged a variety of well-received and award-winning productions, from experimental solo shows to mainstream Broadway musicals, from comedies to dramas to opera.

His productions include Terrence McNally's play Love! Valour! Compassion!, about eight gay men sharing a series of summer holidays in an upstate New York house; Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out, which focuses on the issue of gay athletes in the straight-male-dominated world of professional sports; as well as Stephen Schwartz's Wicked, the long-running musical deconstruction of The Wizard of Oz, and a revival of Stephen Sondheim's controversial musical Assassins.

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As a profile of the director in the New York Times noted, "[Mantello] has come to be identified as one of the few go-to guys who can reliably make the best case for a show."

Before he was a director, Mantello was an actor, first drawing wide attention for his performance in the original New York production of Tony Kushner's politically-charged two-play cycle Angels in America (1993), for which he was nominated for a Tony Award.

Since his appearance in Angels in America, however, he has concentrated on his directing career. Nevertheless, in early 2011 Mantello returned to acting in a limited-run Broadway production of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer's 1985 landmark play about the AIDS crisis.

Mantello also drew attention for his widely-chronicled romantic partnership from 1990 to 2002 with the playwright Jon Robin Baitz. In 1994, the New York Times dubbed the two men "the New York theater's couple of the moment."

They were linked professionally as well, with Mantello directing several of Baitz's plays. As the New York Times' Bruce Weber noted, their personalities and talents are "complementary," with Mantello's "warmth and humor burnishing" Baitz's "intellectual rigor and undercutting his earnestness."

When the two men separated after 12 years together, Mantello felt "completely isolated and heartbroken," but he never ascribed blame for the breakup to Baitz. "Neither of us felt wronged," Mantello later explained. "There wasn't another person. It was just a very painful, mutual acknowledgement that we had evolved from being a couple who lived together into best friends."

Indeed, Mantello and Baitz have remained friends, and in 2011 the two men reunited professionally, when Mantello directed, to critical acclaim, Baitz's new play Other Desert Cities.

Early Life and Career

Joe Mantello was born on December 27, 1962 the oldest son of an Italian-American family in the suburban community of Rockford, Illinois, a city some 90 miles outside of Chicago. With his parents' encouragement, he spent much of his childhood acting in community theater.

After graduating from high school, he enrolled in the School of Drama at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, in Winston-Salem. Soon after his arrival at the school, however, Mantello dropped out and moved to the Virgin Islands with his boyfriend at the time to live in a tent on the beach. He quickly realized that such a way of life was not for him and he returned to the school a week later.

"I feel my life is divided by that event," Mantello later admitted in an interview. "Before, I was having fun. Now, I was serious about becoming an actor."

In 1984, he graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting. That same year he moved to New York to pursue a career in theater.

He teamed up with former classmates actress Mary-Louise Parker and playwright Peter Hedges to create the innovative, but short-lived, theater company Edge Theater. In 1989, he joined the prestigious New York theater group Circle Repertory Company as both an actor and a director; and in 1991 he became associated with the Naked Angels theater troupe.

As an actor, Mantello appeared in several Off Broadway productions, including Keith Curran's Walking the Dead (1991) and Paula Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz (1992), the latter about a woman who contracts a fatal disease that generally afflicts a marginalized group and is taken on an imaginary trip to Europe by her brother to try to save her life.

He also had a small role in Susan Seidelman's film Cookie (1989), and appeared in such television series as The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (1990), Law & Order (1991), and Sisters (1993).

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Joe Mantello in an interview broadcast on YouTube.
  
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