“All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances …”
— From William Shakespeare’s As You Like It
Shortly before David J. (D.J.) Markley’s mid-May retirement party at the West End Theatre, Drama and Dance Department Chair James Kolb said, “D.J.’s been involved in every show – all 99 Drama Department productions in the West End. He was here for the first show and for the last one, The Laramie Project, which closed April 9.
As director of the West End Theatre, Professor Markley was involved in set and lighting design, technical direction and sound production for scores of productions in that intimate, 125-seat theater, plus others in the much larger John Cranford Adams Playhouse. That, he estimates, translates into “at least a thousand performances.”
Professor Markley, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Penn State, also taught technical theater courses at Hofstra, courses taken by many now-famous performers and others in show business.
The theater’s first production hit the stage December 1, 1972 – just weeks after President Nixon was re-elected in a landslide win over George McGovern and weeks before Apollo 17 made the last manned visit to the moon. Grease and Pippin were among plays scoring on Broadway that year, while The Godfather (from Hofstra’s own Francis Ford Coppola), Fiddler on the Roof, Dirty Harry and Cabaret were among the biggest movie box office hits. All in the Family, Maude and M*A*S*H were shaking things up in prime time TV, and Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” were high on the hit charts.
For the 1972 season closer, the West End staged Gold in the Hills. For that spoof of Victorian melodrama, the theater was transformed into a saloon, complete with real beer on tap, peanuts and popcorn served to the audience by dance hall girls. “The drinking age then was 18,” Professor Markley points out.
“D.J. has an engineering background,” Dr. Kolb says. “He knows electrical, carpentry, set and lighting design. He did the sets for a number of plays that I directed.”
Still, as Dr. Kolb notes, Professor Markley and others had to come up with innovative set designs that would work in the tight confines of the West End Theatre – 40 by 60 feet, with a 10-foot ceiling. All good experience for those going on to careers in off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway and dinner theater.
In the case of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Professor Markley says, “We created real environmental spaces.” The audience was in the middle of the mental institution’s dayroom setting, for example. “Another production, Three Sisters, took place around the audience – with the actors performing behind and beside the spectators,” he recalls.
“Poo-wa-bah,” the Drama and Dance alumni newsletter, dubbed 1998 “the year of the scaffold.” Professor Markley did the set and lighting design for the scaffold-dominated sets of both All’s Well That Ends Well and Sweet Charity in the Adams Playhouse. In 2000, a year marking the 50th anniversary of the Shakespeare Festival’s use of the Globe Theatre replica, he oversaw the lighting design and technical direction for The Boys From Syracuse, the Rodgers & Hart musical based on the Bard’s The Comedy of Errors.
Because Professor Markley “had had a design concept in mind for Shakespeare’s King John for years,” Dr. Kolb says, “we decided to put on that play during his last year.” Professor Markley includes King John among his favorite productions, along with Kindertransport and The Fantasticks.
Dr. Kolb says, “D.J. is wonderful one on one and has a great sense of humor. He’s had a tremendous impact on his students here, including well-known ones like Chris Albrecht of HBO and Phil Rosenthal ’81 and Monica Horan ’84 [of Everybody Loves Raymond].” Professor Markley also designed sets for an off-campus project directed by Susan Schulman ’64, Dr. Kolb adds.
“I’ve been here 36 years and doing this for a living for about 40 years,” says Professor Markley, “so it’s hard to judge the [career] high points. I won a couple of awards, got to meet a lot of people, and watched students become successes.” Examples of the latter, he says, include Rosenthal, Margaret Colin (whose credits include Independence Day) and Robert Davi (whose credits include the TV series The Profiler and the film Die Hard).
What happens now to the space that was the West End Theatre? Next year, Dr. Kolb says, that space will be converted into a rehearsal room and costume shop, as Emily Lowe Hall is refurbished. Afterward, it will become fine arts classrooms, he says. A new 250-seat theater will be housed in the new academic arts building currently under construction on the South Campus, he adds.
Waxing nostalgic, Dr. Kolb says that the West End occupied for nearly 34 years what was intended to be “temporary” Calkins Hall quarters – what had been the weight room in the onetime Calkins Gymnasium. Might a plaque commemorate the theater’s three decades of performances at Calkins? “I hope so,” says Dr. Kolb. As for the sign that’s above the doorway, he says, “We’ll probably hang that in Lowe or in the lobby of the new building.”
So, what’s Professor Markley’s next act? He will be moving to a town in Maryland, near where that state meets Delaware and Pennsylvania. “If someone offered me a project and I really wanted to do it, I would,” he says. Otherwise, his plan is to “retire and live comfortably, do some traveling and do some reading and writing.”
Looking back, he says wistfully that there have been “ups and downs.” Shakespeare perhaps summed it up best: “All’s well that ends well.”