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Joan A. Calkin, 81, local actress in prominent roles

Feb. 15, 1936 – May 22, 2017 

Joan A. Calkin, an actress who played prominent roles on local stages during Buffalo’s theatrical renaissance in the 1970s and 1980s, died May 22 in Sisters Hospital St. Joseph Campus, Cheektowaga.

Her family said the cause was complications from pulmonary disease. A Snyder resident, she was 81.

The daughter of a Navy doctor, Joan Arlene Chace was born while he was doing his residency in Pawtucket, R.I., and spent her childhood in Southern California while he was stationed in San Diego.

The valedictorian of the Class of 1953 at Coronado High School in Coronado, Calif., she came East to attend Tufts University, leaving after marrying her former husband, Parker E. Calkin, and becoming a mother. After he earned his doctorate at Ohio State University, where she worked as a librarian, they came to the Buffalo area in 1963 when he became an associate professor of geology at the University at Buffalo.

“She always wanted to be involved in theater,” her son, Dr. Mark Calkin, says. “It was a secret passion of hers.”

After a sabbatical year in Cambridge, England, she began appearing in local productions of classic dramas in the early 1970s with roles in Strindberg’s “The Father” and “The Ghost Sonata,” Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” and Sheridan’s “The School for Scandal” at the Kenan Center’s Taylor Theatre in Lockport.

She shared the stage with veteran film and TV actor Pat Hingle in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” at the Studio Arena Theatre in 1976 and with the late Chris O’Neill in a production of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” at the former Pfeiffer Theatre.

While earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at UB, she assisted critic and director Eric Bentley. In 1978, she appeared in “The Threepenny Opera,” a Bentley production of “Wannsee” and “Six Characters in Search of an Author.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, she had roles in “Hamlet” and “King Lear” in Shakespeare in Delaware Park. Reviewing a production of “Richard III” in 1992 for The Buffalo News, critic Anthony Chase wrote: “I’ve never seen Joan Calkin better than she is as the Dutchess of York. She hits every note and dramatic irony of the character with wonderful accuracy and conviction.”

She was one of the original members in Brainstormers, a troupe of older actors founded in 2006 that presents short plays dramatizing issues of concerns for seniors, followed by discussions. Her signature role was Mary Marvel, a counselor in a retirement community for senior superheroes who have lost their powers.

“The thing that impressed me about Joan,” said Keith Elkins of Brainstormers, who starred with her in Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real” at the Kavinoky Theatre, “was that she became the character she was playing. She was strong.”

In addition to her son, survivors include a daughter, Lisa Clough, a concert violinist; and five grandchildren. Her brother, Myles Chace, died earlier in May.

A celebration of her life will be held in July.

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