Next Tuesday, February 21, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center will present Doubt: A Parable performed by the Montana Repertory Theatre. The play centers on controversy within a Catholic school set in 1965, where the strict Sister Aloysius suspects there may be a dark side to the charismatic Father Flynn. But is hard-headed Sister Aloysius protecting children from harm, or is she falsely accusing an innocent man of a shocking abuse of power and trust?
There are more layers to this incredibly powerful play, and you may find even more to enjoy with a closer look at the playwright, John Patrick Shanley. His own life and those of his friends and family have taken shape in many of his plays, and as Alex Witchel wrote about Shanley in The New York Times, “the curse of having a writer in the family is that everything - sooner or later - becomes material.”
About the Playwright
Born in 1950, John Patrick Shanley grew up the youngest of five children in an Irish-Catholic family in the Bronx neighborhood of East Tremont. His father, a meatpacker, was an Irish immigrant, and the neighborhood was home to similar working-class Irish and Italian families. “It was extremely anti-intellectual and extremely racist, and none of this fit me,” the playwright revealed to The New York Times, recalling that he was “in constant fistfights from the time I was six,” though he asserted he rarely picked the fight himself.
Shanley spent the first eight years of his formal education at a Catholic school run by the Sisters of Charity. He went on to the all-boys Cardinal Spellman High School, where he rebelled against strict, no-nonsense priests, spending time every week in after-school detention. He next attended a private Catholic school in New Hampshire, where he began to thrive as teachers encouraged his writing talents. After briefly attending New York University, Shanley enlisted in the Marine Corps. Following his service in the Vietnam War, he returned to NYU and graduated in 1977 as the valedictorian of his class.
Shanley had already started writing plays. In his early twenties, he later recalled, “I tried the dialogue form, and it was instantaneous. I wrote a full-length play the first time I ever wrote in dialogue, and it was produced a few weeks later.” By the early 1980s he had written a half-dozen works, and some of the one act plays were staged together in a late 1982 production titled Welcome to the Moon. Featuring fanciful characters and props, the play explored themes of love and love’s absence. Critics were less than kind.
He had somewhat better luck with Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, a play about two star-crossed lovers who meet in a seedy Bronx bar, which was produced in New York and London in 1984 and toured with the Louisville Festival.
Next, Shanley turned to writing a screenplay based on his experiences with voluble Italian-American families. The resulting film, Moonstruck, starred Cher and Nicolas Cage. A strong supporting cast and interesting subplots centering on love and infidelity rounded out the work, which won Shanley the 1987 Academy Award for best screenplay. Following Moonstruck, Shanley had little success in Hollywood. "The January Man" and "Joe Versus the Volcano," despite the presence of big-name stars, were panned by critics and did poorly at the box office. He was more successful with his script for HBO’s "Live from Baghdad," which won a 2003 Emmy Award.
Shanley’s playwriting during this time included Italian American Reconciliation (1988) and Beggars in the House of Plenty (1991), featuring the dysfunctional characters who had become the hallmark of his work. In 2001 Shanley became involved with New York’s LAByrinth Theater Company, where his play Where’s My Money? was staged.
Doubt, A Parable began its off-Broadway run in November 2004 and went on to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre the following March. The play earned outstanding praise from critics and the most impressive honors for which a playwright could ever hope: the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award® for best play of the 2004-2005 season. Shanley adapted his play for the screen, and in 2008, the film, directed by Shanley and starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, was released to critical acclaim. The movie’s many awards included an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay and a Golden Globe for best screenplay.
A world premiere, fully-staged production of Shanley’s new play, Pirate, was one of the highlights of Vassar & New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater 2010 summer season.
For more information and tickets to Tuesday night’s performance, visit foxcitiespac.com.