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March 3, 2005

   

PHILADELPHIA BIDS FAREWELL TO JILLINE RINGLE '86

Jilline Ringle

Actress-singer Jilline Ringle '86, the self-described "six-foot redheaded Amazon from Hell whom all men desire," died Monday, Feb. 28, after a fierce battle with cancer and pneumonia. She was 40 years old.

Ringle was much loved by audiences in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cape May, N.J., where she performed at the Chalfonte Hotel each summer. Thrice nominated for Philadelphia's Barrymore Award, she was a versatile performer whose gigantic stage presence inspired exceptional devotion in fans and made her "Philly's Coolest Actress," in the estimation of City Paper. Friends and colleagues say that her generosity of spirit matched her prodigious talent.

She was known for her "concept cabarets," solo performances in which song, storytelling and physical comedy were organized around a unifying theme. The most celebrated of these shows was the wildly popular Mondo Mangia, a comic musical ethnography of the traditions associated with food in Ringle's own Italian-American family, performed as Ringle cooked a pasta dish that she served to the audience. Other cabarets Ringle wrote and performed included For Me — Formidable: French Made Easy; Come Fly With Me; La Dolce Vita: Movie Songs of the 1960s; and Shut Up and Kiss Me.

Jilline Ringle Performing

Ringle's extraordinary gifts as a performer were evident early, says Bryn Bennett Jameson '88, who worked with Ringle in several undergraduate productions at Bryn Mawr and is now a professor of theater at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. "Jilline sprang fully formed into the world of acting. Sure, her artistry became deeper and more sophisticated, her voice became truer and more expressive, over the 20 years I had the privilege to see her work. But even at 20 years old, Jilline had fundamental mastery over the craft," Jameson said. "She was one of those actors who just knew how to do it, and didn't waste her time pretending to learn it from someone else. She lived her life, understood her potential and went about doing the work in her own magnificent way."

While she was a Bryn Mawr English major, Ringle's stand-out talent brought her to the attention of then-president Mary Patterson McPherson, who arranged a meeting between Ringle and Katharine Hepburn '28.

"That meeting became the basis of a hilarious story that her classmates begged to hear at every reunion," said Amy Friedman '86, who appeared in several Bryn Mawr-Haverford productions with Ringle.

Shortly after she graduated, Ringle worked for the Arden Theater Company during the troupe's first year. She did dramaturgy, lighting and costume work for the Arden and eventually acted in 10 shows there, including her Barrymore-nominated performance as Mary in Merrily We Roll Along. Ringle's latest cabaret, a tribute to '50s femme fatales titled Shut up and Kiss Me, was on the Arden's upcoming spring schedule.

Ringle also found an artistic home at 1812 Productions, where she gave Barrymore-nominated performances in Mondo Mangia and in Michael Ogborn's Box Office of the Damned. In December, Ringle performed with 1812 Artistic Director Jen Childs in Always a Lady: A Celebration of Funny Women for the Holidays.

Ringle was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. She continued to perform, first in cabaret shows at Cape May and later in Café Puttanesca at the Arden, while undergoing aggressive anticancer therapy and battling the disease into remission.

Ringle planned to travel to Florida to play Josie in A Moon for the Misbegotten — a part she described as "the role of a lifetime" — in the Orlando Shakespeare Festival this month. A recurrence of cancer, this time in her brain, prevented her from taking the role. She fought the illness tenaciously, supported by what she called "a tsunami of love" from family, friends, colleagues and fans.

She is survived by her father, Charles Ringle, and brothers Scott and Jeffrey.

Visiting hours are from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Ippolito-Stellato Funeral Home, 7 Two Bridges Rd., Fairfield, N.J. A funeral mass will be said at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Fairfield.

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