Jackie Demaline, long The Enquirer’s theater critic, and truly a force field of energy, died very recently. She’d been a friend of mine and colleague for decades, and she changed the face of theater in Cincinnati, partly by expecting excellence in all things theater, and partly through the sheer force of her personality. Her departure from The Enquirer in 2013 also marked the beginning of the end of serious arts coverage in that paper, followed last year when classical music critic Janelle Gefland was downsized out.
Jackie was often bitingly hilarious in her reviews; I remember her referring to the musical Miss Saigon as “teeth-clenchingly boring” (which was true); she minced no words, was sometimes feared, perhaps, as critics sometimes seem to be, but we could always expect serious, comprehensive, and highly knowledgable criticism from her pen; she sometimes also wrote features, and occasionally reviews in the visual arts when The Enquirer seemed unwilling to hire a new visual arts writer. She rallied lovers of theater in this town, and I believe that her brilliant reviews and her passionate personality helped to create the very vital theater scene we now have in Greater Cincinnati. She wrote with high standards, honesty and with a serious critical eye.
Personally, Jackie was brilliant and hilarious. Her laugh was loud and booming and exuberant. She did not truck fools lightly. She read a lot, was liberal politically, and we shared our irate horror at all kinds of Trumperies together. By the time I might have found a new Indian restaurant, Jackie had already discovered three others, often in strange nooks and crannies in neighborhoods all over the city. I can’t look at or think of brussels sprouts without thinking of Jackie–at lunch with another mutual friend, brussels sprouts were always ordered as a takeout, and one knew that they were Jackie. Food for her was a shared thing, something she enjoyed with an incredible number of truly good friends. I was always amazed at the number of friends she had–I don’t mean acquaintances or contact–as she was terrific company; conversation never lagged around her, and her wit was astonishing.
Jackie Demaline set a tone for excellence in theater in Cincinnati for decades, and I’ve always thought of her as one of Greater Cincinnati’s greatest assets. She was a true leader in all senses of that word, and showed how much one individual with conviction and honor can help make a community grow and flourish. She leaves behind heaps of friends, and had established a foundation to give money to emerging playwrights before her untimely death. Many of us will miss her, her columns, her observations, her passion for many years to come: we’ve lost one of the arts’ best champions and a woman of commanding brilliance.