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Tampa Repertory Theater founder C. David Frankel leaves legacy of good will

The actor, director and professor of theatre at the University of South Florida was 65.

Talk to people who knew C. David Frankel and the same words are used to describe him. Funny. Brilliant. Passionate. Humble.

The associate director of theatre at the University of South Florida and founder of Tampa Repertory Theatre died on March 5 after a long battle with lymphoma and myelodysplastic syndrome.

He was a native of Long Island, New York. He received a Bachelor of Arts in drama and English from Hofstra University, which is where he met his wife, Connie LaMarca-Frankel. He had a Master of Fine Arts in directing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Frankel was a teacher and director of theatre at St. Leo College until 1994, when he joined the staff at USF. He taught there for 26 years.

He was a fixture in local theater, acting in and directing plays for local companies including the Gorilla Theatre.

In 2011, he co-founded Tampa Repertory Theatre with his wife, Connie LaMarca-Frankel and actors Emilia Sargent and Ned Averill-Snell. He remained the artistic director until his death. The company is in season nine, an achievement for small theater companies.

C. David Frankel is pictured in this photo from Tampa Repertory's production of "Heroes." [ Courtesy of Desiree Fantal ]

"We kept saying how much we wish we had a theater that brought the classics back in a new way to Tampa, said Sargent. “It was really David’s brainchild to say, ‘hey, why don’t we just do it?’”

Even while fulfilling that dream, he remained supportive of local theater.

“He was very good about getting out to see other company’s work,” said Ned Averill-Snell. “Before he got sick, he went around and saw every show in town if he could. So he knew every company and every actor.”

His son, Matthew Frankel, said that while the theater was his dad’s life, so was teaching. Being a professor made an equally big impact on the theater community because he taught many local actors as students.

He described Frankel as the quintessential professor, smoking a pipe carved to look like William Shakepeare between classes before he quit smoking years ago.

Matthew said that the most valuable thing he learned from his dad was to always keep trying.

Tampa Repertory Theater artistic director Emilia Sargent remembers Frankel as an “incredibly good human being” who she met when he approached her after a production she performed in.

“He said, ‘I’ve always wanted to work with you. And I just think you’re great.’ That’s how he talked to people, he’d say, ‘you’re so good, trust that’.” He was somebody who never hesitated to say the good things that he was thinking. And I think that was a gift that he gave people."

That first meeting led to their friendship and partnership, talking or texting almost daily. Sargent considered him her mentor.

Friends remember his “super-human” volume of knowledge on a vast number of topics. That knowledge factored into his intellectual approach as a director.

“He had a rich and detailed approach to directing,” Averill-Snell said. “He challenged you to think more deeply about what you were doing.”

Sargent said that she trusted him implicitly as a director and that he grew to understand the way her brain works.

C. David Frankel, right, plays the fictional Solomon Galkin and Jim Wicker, left, plays Bernie Madoff in Tampa Repertory Theatre's production of "Imagining Madoff." [ Courtesy of Desiree Fantal ]

Paul Potenza, a jeweler and artistic associate at Jobsite Theater, first met Frankel as his student at USF when he went back to college at age 40, about 20 years ago. It was an introduction to Shakespeare class where he said Frankel taught him to dissect the bard’s plays and how to develop character analysis.

They formed a tight friendship based on their mutual passion for the New York Yankees. They would watch games together, play catch and cook sausages and hamburgers.

Befitting of a renaissance man like Frankel, things came full circle for him when he did a one-person play, "Nobody Don’t Like Yogi,” in which he played Yogi Berra coming back to Yankee Stadium after Steinbrenner had fired him.

C. David Frankel plays Yogi Berra in "Nobody Don't Like Yogi." [ Suncoast News ]

Potenza said that after Frankel got sick, he would document his progress in e-mails that he sent to his friends, but that they didn’t have a woe-is-me tone.

When Frankel’s death was announced by Tampa Repertory Theatre on their Facebook page, there was an outpouring of love in the comments.

“You don’t know how much influence someone has until they’re gone,” Matthew said. “He always pushed for a better theater community.”

The threat of the coronavirus forced the family to cancel the memorial.

C. David Frankel

Born: July 21, 1954

Died: March 5, 2020

Survivors: Wife Connie, son Matthew (Megan), sister Marsha; brothers, Larry, Barney (Maria), nephews and nieces, Jonathan and Jennifer, Benjamin and Vanessa, Justin and Stephanie, Joseph, and Sal.