Tom Cole: 1933-2009

By Cutrofello, Robert | American Theatre, July-August 2009 | Go to article overview

Tom Cole: 1933-2009


Cutrofello, Robert, American Theatre


TOM COLE COULD often be found walking his property in Litchfield County, Conn. There is a nature trail there that he groomed with his own hands. The zigs, the zags, the playful dips, all reflect his intelligence, personality and sense of humor. It was on this trail that Cole often thought through scripts, and ultimately the lessons he learned and taught.

Cole's characters were never similar in place, age or sex, but they often shared a similar yearning to understand their impulses. Like any good writer, Cole touched upon his characters' stations in life, simultaneously reassuring readers and making them feel less alone.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Cole's work constantly varied. He was one of the first to explore modern post-traumatic battle fatigue in his most famous play, Medal of Honor Rag (1975), about a Vietnam veteran. The play is still politically vital and is consistently produced throughout the country, for it questions the sanity in honoring acts that are born from the irrational risks one makes in combat. Related themes were explored in his adaptation of Gogol's Dead Souls--serfs as chattel, ultimately becoming mere numbers on property registries, loom throughout the work. Cole's two-hander About Time is a portrait of an elderly couple facing mortality but continuing their romance; as they silently acknowledge their aging and illness, they celebrate their enduring union.

Cole's love affair with Russian culture is reflected in his numerous translations, but he also lived it. …

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