Derek Anson Jones, Director of Wit, Dead at 38

News   Derek Anson Jones, Director of Wit, Dead at 38 Derek Anson Jones, 38, the director who staged Off-Broadway's Wit during the time it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, died Jan. 17 in New York City of complications from AIDS, according to his partner, Denis O'Hare.
Kathleen Chalfant embraces Derek Anson Jones at the 1999 Drama Desk Awards.
Kathleen Chalfant embraces Derek Anson Jones at the 1999 Drama Desk Awards. (Photo by Photo by Aubrey Reuben)

Derek Anson Jones, 38, the director who staged Off-Broadway's Wit during the time it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, died Jan. 17 in New York City of complications from AIDS, according to his partner, Denis O'Hare.

Mr. Jones made his name directing the New York premiere of longtime friend Margaret Edson's Wit at MCC Theatre and then the Union Square Theatre. The drama tells of a poetry professor's brave fight against — and her final days with — ovarian cancer.

Mr. Jones died at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan.

The Geffen Playhouse staging of Wit in Los Angeles, with New York star Kathleen Chalfant, is scheduled to begin performances Jan. 18. A national tour starring Judith Light begins Feb. 1.

Edson said in a statement, "Our friendship began decades before Wit, and I trusted it would continue for decades beyond. I am pleased that so many people came to admire his spirit and talent; I am sorry so many people will join me in thinking sadly about what else he might have had up his sleeve." For his direction of Wit, Mr. Jones won the 1999 Lucille Lortel Award and received a Drama Desk nomination. He received the Connecticut Critics Circle Award for Best Director in 1997 and was awarded an NEA/TCG Directing Fellowship in 1996.

He recently staged Much Ado About Nothing and An American Daughter for Long Wharf Theatre, as well as Angelique for MCC Theater.

Mr. Jones was born in Washington, DC, where he attended Sidwell Friends School, the place he first met future playwright Edson. He earned a bachelor's degree in theatre and American civilization from Brown University and an MFA from Yale School of Drama.

Mr. Jones' additional credits include Without Skin or Breathlessness at P.S. 122, Measure for Measure for Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the world premiere of Splash Hatch on the E Going Down at New York Stage and Film and Vaclav Havel's The Memorandum at the Guthrie Theater.

Doug Hughes, artistic director of Long Wharf, where the Jones staging of Wit began, said, "It was my privelege to produce three of Derek Anson Jones' exquisite productions. He was a master of a number of theatrical dialects, but his work was always characterized by a profoundly humane spirit. Derek believed that theatre could really matter. In a brief but extraordinary career, he demonstrated just that."

In addition to O'Hare, who is the Broadway actor known for playing Ernst in the Broadway revival of Cabaret, Mr. Jones is also survived by parents Raymond and Gladys Jones of Washington, DC, and a brother, Raymond Jones Jr. of Aurora, CO.

Funeral services are private, but a public memorial service will be held 2 PM Feb. 7 at the Union Square Theatre, 100 E. 17th St. in Manhattan.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to The Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC).

-- By Kenneth Jones