Oni Faida Lampley, Actress Who Was Also Award-Winning Playwright, Has Died at 49

By Kenneth Jones
May 2, 2008

Oni Faida Lampley, the award-winning playwright of The Dark Kalamazoo, Mixed Babies and her personal illness-inspired Tough Titty, died April 28 after a battle with breast cancer, friends and colleagues reported.

As an actress, Ms. Lampley, who turned 49 on April 15, recently played Mrs. Breedlove in Hartford Stage's production of The Bluest Eye. She left the production early to have emergency surgery.

Ms. Lampley's Broadway acting credits included Mule Bone and The Ride Down Mt. Morgan. She acted in Off-Broadway's Mud, River, Stone for Playwrights Horizons, Zooman and the Sign at the McGinn-Cazale, The Destiny of Me at the Lortel and in the Public Theater's Ride Down Mt. Morgan prior to Broadway. She also had many regional theatre, TV and film credits. As is the case with many working actors in New York City, she appeared on all three "Law & Order" shows.

Her autobiographical solo play, The Dark Kalamazoo, was produced Off-Broadway by The Drama Dept. at Greenwich House Theatre in 2002. She also starred. The play tells of Lampley's first trip overseas at the age of 19 to Africa, no less. Not surprisingly, she doesn't find what she expects to find in "The Motherland." She encounters racism, and is dubbed the Dark Kalamazoo, as she was attached to a student group from the Michigan city.

Ms. Lampley lived in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, with her husband Tommy Abney and sons Olu and Ade.

A college scholarship fund for her sons has been established at www.theonifund.com.

What also lives on are her plays, which have been published. In 1991, she received the prestigious Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play the top playwriting honor in the Helen Hayes Awards in Washington, DC for Mixed Babies, produced by the Washington Stage Guild.

In 2000 she was nominated for a second Charles MacArthur for The Dark Kalamazoo, which was first produced by the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in DC. Also in 1991, as an actress, she was Helen Hayes-nominated in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress (Resident Production) for Rebel Armies Deep Into Chad.

As a member of Juilliard's playwriting program, Ms. Lampley earned a DeComte du Nouy Award for Mixed Babies.

In 2001 she was nominated for the Charlotte Cushman Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play, in the Barrymore Awards in Philadelphia, for her turn in The Dark Kalamazoo by Freedom Repertory Theatre. Kevin Campbell won the Barrymore Award for that production's Outstanding Original Music.

Ms. Lampley also penned and performed Shame the Devil (2001) at a Carnegie Hall benefit called Artists for a Cure.

The 2003 play, Tough Titty, concerned her then seven-year struggle with breast cancer. Charles Randolph-Wright directed its premiere in 2005 at the Williamtown Theatre Festival. In it, a woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer tries to stay married, raise two small sons and endure poisonous treatments.

She was a 2006 Susan Smith Blackburn Finalist (for Tough Titty), and a recipient of the Boomerang Fund Grant, and the Helen Merrill Award.

At the time of her death, according to friends, she was writing a play on commission from Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis. She had recently found out that Magic Theatre in San Francisco will produce Tough Titty in 2009.

She was born Vera Lampley in Oklahoma City, OK. She still has family in Oklahoma. They were in attendance at a memorial at New Dramatists in Manhattan April 29.

Ms. Lampley earned a bachelor's degree at Oberlin College in Ohio, got her graduate acting degree at New York University and was in Juilliard's playwriting program.

In 2007 she participated in a three-week playwriting residency at the National Theatre in London. Her essays and articles were seen in such magazines as Mirabella, Self and ELLE. She was a founding member of the Drama Department and a Usual Suspect at New York Theatre Workshop.