John V. Libertini, 46, actor, founder of Theatre Therese parish troupe

January 12, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John V. Libertini, an actor and director who founded Theatre Therese, a parish theatrical troupe at the Shrine of the Little Flower Roman Catholic Church, died of cancer Thursday at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. He was 46 and lived in Northeast Baltimore.

Born in Baltimore and raised in the Belair-Edison section of the city, Mr. Libertini attended the Shrine of the Little Flower Parochial School and graduated from Archbishop Curley High School in 1974.

From 1974 until retiring on a medical disability last year, Mr. Libertini worked as a Social Security Administration benefits counselor.

But in the evenings and on weekends, he was attracted to the excitement of the theater. A lifelong passion, particularly for musicals, led Mr. Libertini to establish Theatre Therese in 1975.

In the beginning, he presented one-act plays but eventually expanded his repertoire to include full-cast productions of Gypsy and Anything Goes.

"It really was an obsession," said Michael Britt, a Hamilton resident and longtime friend who was the group's music director.

In addition to directing and casting shows, Mr. Libertini often assumed roles, including one of his most memorable, Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof.

"As a character actor, he was very versatile and his comedic roles were an absolute riot. He was the kind of actor who exploited a role," said Mr. Britt. "John never balked at any part. He did it all."

Darlene F. Goetzinger of Joppatowne, who met Mr. Libertini at Theatre Therese in the 1970s, later acted and co-produced shows with him.

"He was a kid who never quite grew up," she said. "He was always so filled with enthusiasm that everyone got caught up in it with him. He was so consumed by a show that it was hard to get him to think about anything else. He'd spend hours working with the script and checking every detail."

Mr. Libertini also was known for his ever-present clipboard.

"He could get mad and when he did, he'd throw that clipboard to get people's attention. And then he'd yell," Ms. Goetzinger said, laughing. "We've all said that he probably took that clipboard to heaven with him."

After Theater Therese disbanded in 1999, Mr. Libertini directed productions at other Baltimore area churches until becoming affiliated with the St. Paul Players at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Bel Air.

He directed Oliver and starred as Noah in Two by Two. His last stage role for the company was Horace Vandergelder in Hello Dolly last spring.

Gail A. Bareham, artistic director for St. Paul Players who lives in Abingdon, recalled Mr. Libertini's ability to have people fulfill his vision.

"It was always a wonderful experience working with John. He had a picture in his head, and he knew what he wanted. He could get people to pull characters out of themselves that they had no idea they could do," she said.

The theater group is preparing for its springtime production of Guys and Dolls.

"John is making a final appearance. His voice, as the character of Joey Biltmore, will be heard on the phone. We recorded it last fall when he wasn't so ill. Guys and Dolls was his very first show years ago, and it'll be his last," she said.

The show is based on a Damon Runyon short story. A portion of the proceeds from the St. Paul Players' production will be donated to the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation in Mr. Libertini's memory.

He was a communicant of the Shrine of the Little Flower, where a Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday.

Mr. Libertini is survived by uncles, aunts and several cousins.

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