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  • Writer's pictureClara Moses

Shanley's Life Inspires His Work, and His Work Inspires Us

We are very excited to start our 2018-2019 season with “Outside Mullingar,” a romantic comedy set in rural Ireland. This tender-hearted play was written by John Patrick Shanley. That name may sound familiar to you for a multitude of reasons.

Shanley wrote “Doubt: A Parable,” which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2005 Tony Award for Best Play. In 2008, Shanley directed a film version of this critically acclaimed piece, which stars Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis. The movie was also very well received and Shanley’s screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.

“Doubt” may be Shanley’s most recognizable work, but he is the author of more than 20 plays, which have been translated and performed around the world. He has also done a considerable amount in Hollywood. Prior to “Doubt,” Shanley won the 1988 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his film “Moonstruck,” which stars Nicolas Cage and Cher. Are we ringing any bells yet? How about the 1990 movie “Joe Versus the Volcano?” That was also written and directed by Shanley.

Anybody familiar with the film “Congo?” Shanley wrote that screenplay, which was based on a Michael Crichton book, as well. Even if you haven’t seen “Congo,” you probably recognize Crichton’s name because of another famous book-turned-movie, “Jurassic Park.” Now, Shanley unfortunately had nothing to do with that, but don’t write him off as boring just yet! He wrote his own prehistoric-themed screenplay that turned into the 1993 animated film “We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story.” Hey, they can’t all be Pulitzer Prize winners, folks. Sometimes stories are just fun, plain and simple.

The more you look into Shanley’s career history, the more it becomes clear that he enjoys wearing many hats. He even wrote some of the songs featured in “Joe Versus the Volcano.” In 2012, he wrote the libretto for an opera version of “Doubt: A Parable.”

Although the last few decades are filled with Shanley’s work, his life wasn’t always about creating. Born into an Irish-American family in 1950, Shanley grew up in a “rough area” of the Bronx. He spent the first eight years of his formal education at St. Anthony's, a Roman Catholic school run by the Sisters of Charity religious order. He went on to the all-boys Cardinal Spellman High School, where he rebelled against the strict, no-nonsense priests who taught at the school. During his two years there, Shanley spent every single week in after-school detention, until he was asked to leave.

Instead of moving onto a public high school in the Bronx after that, he opted for the Thomas Moore school, a private school in New Hampshire that was affiliated with the Catholic church. It was at this last school, away from the Bronx, that Shanley began to thrive. His teachers encouraged his writing talents, which started around the age of eleven, and as a teen he wrote reams of poetry.

After Shanley graduated high school, he attended New York University, although his freshman year brought back his trouble with schooling. After being put on academic probation, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in a stateside post during the Vietnam War. He did return to NYU with the help of the G.I. Bill and became the class of 1977’s valedictorian.

We’re very glad that Shanley found his way to the theater. Like all good writers, he’s turned his experiences, pain, and happiness into art. From creating some of our favorite ‘80s and ‘90s movies, to working with current Hollywood “It Boy” Timothée Chalamet during the Off-Broadway production of “Prodigal Son,” Shanley’s career has certainly been an interesting one to watch. Perhaps we find his plays so compelling because he writes what he knows? The reoccurring theme of struggling through school is undeniable in his works and the setting of a Catholic school in “Doubt” has been intriguing audiences and critics alike for years.

I guess you could say that Shanley is someone who isn’t very comfortable with the status quo. He certainly seems to have a rebellious streak. He once said, “Playwriting is the last great bastion of the individual writer. It’s exciting precisely because it’s where the money isn’t. Money goes to safety, to consensus. It’s not individualism. That’s why sometimes I get very frustrated watching plays. I mean you could do or say anything that’s within the bounds of the law if you don’t harm anybody physically, and this is what you’re doing? Theater is just too exciting a prospect to be left to dullards.”

“Outside Mullingar” opened on Broadway in 2014 and starred Debra Messing. Knowing all that we know now, what could be more fun and fulfilling than breathing life back into a John Patrick Shanley script with our own talented cast of Broadway actors, including husband and wife team Amy Hutchins and Michael Stewart Allen. We look forward to taking you on this journey to the Irish countryside and giving you an inside look at what one critic describes as “quirky, lovelorn loners.”

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