Jehane D. Reuther, activist and playwright, dies at 46

August 12, 1991

Jehane Dyllan Reuther, a playwright, producer, actress and labor activist who lived in Baltimore for the last eight years of her life, died Friday in her Homeland home after a 3 1/2 -year battle with cancer. She was 46.

A private service was planned, with a memorial service as a celebration of her works to be held at a later date.

Born in Memphis, Tenn., she worked in a variety of jobs while earning her bachelor of arts degree at St. Louis University and her master of fine arts in theater from the Boston University School of Fine Arts.

While teaching acting at Harvard University, she married a sociologist and moved to Australia, where she had two sons.

After her divorce, she moved to Washington with her children.

Mrs. Reuther acted extensively in theaters in Boston, St. Louis and Memphis.

In the mid-1970s, she created the nonprofit Union Sister Productions, which produced plays dealing with feminist issues.

She renamed the company Union Street Productions in 1982.

At the time of her death, she was president of Lightnin' Productions, a production company she created in 1986.

Often referring to herself as a "poor Southern Catholic woman from Memphis," she was known for writing plays about people struggling with life, particularly those of the working class.

She wrote and performed the title role of the critically acclaimed play, "Silkwood."

"Silkwood" premiered at Washington's Arena Theatre in 1980 at a benefit for striking Mississippi workers.

The one-woman play was performed across the country for four years. It was later adapted into a movie starring Meryl Streep in the title role.

In 1981, she married her second husband, Eric Reuther, and moved to Baltimore with her family.

Mrs. Reuther also wrote and performed in an organizing play, "Lineman and Sweet Lightnin'," for the Communications Workers of America in 1983.

Her last play, "Union Street Cafe," was written for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union before she was diagnosed as having bone cancer in 1987.

Afterward, she worked with several support groups seeking different types of treatment for cancer as her battle with the disease took her around the world.

In the last few years of her life, she concentrated much of her time and energy into preparing movie screenplays of her works.

Mrs. Reuther was a member of Actors Equity and the Coalition of Labor Union Women.

In addition to her husband of 10 years, she is survived by two sons, Jason D. Helmer and Gabriel M. Helmer, both of Baltimore; her parents, Louis and Opal Santi of Indiatlantic, Fla.; and two brothers, Ronnie Santi of Melbourne, Fla., and Michael Santi of Memphis.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Christic Institute, 1324 N. Capitol Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20077.

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