It was terribly sad to learn of the passing of Devils Lake native Phyllis Frelich. She won a Tony Award for Best Actress in 1980 for the role created for her in Children of a Lesser God. The drama ran for more than two years on Broadway.
Many more stage and television roles would follow. She would be given North Dakota’s highest honor in 1981, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award.
She was 70 when she died Thursday.
She graduated from the North Dakota School for the Deaf in Devils Lake (where she was revered) and from Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C., a college for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, where she got her start in acting.
Something like fifteen years ago I did an extended television interview with Phyllis in our Devils Lake studio for WDAZ News @5. She came with an entourage. It included a translator the deaf school and several members of her very, very supportive Devils Lake family. She was one of nine children.
I was flattered when her mother, also deaf, told me she watched News @5 regularly. We talked about closed captioning for television which had been a challenge technically on our end at the time.
Most memorably for me, I asked Phyllis something like, “Isn’t it a little sad that, after giving a wonderful performance on stage, you can’t hear the audience’s applause?” Without missing a beat, Phyllis said, “No. It’s not sad at all. I can FEEL the audience’s applause.” Those words have stuck with me for years. I’m pretty sure I’ll think of them every time I think of her or someone mention’s her name. It must be wonderful to feel the applause of an audience. Maybe even more wonderful than to be able to hear it.