Lonergan, Kenneth 1963(?)-
LONERGAN, Kenneth 1963(?)-
ADDRESSES: Home—New York, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Vintage Books, Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Playwright, screenwriter, and director. Member, Naked Angels Theater Company.
AWARDS, HONORS: Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, 2000, National Society of Film Critics award for best screenplay, and Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for best original screenplay, all 2000, all for You Can Count on Me.
The Rennings Children (one-act play), produced at the Circle Repertory Co. New York, NY, 1982.
This Is Our Youth (two-act play; produced off Broadway 1996; produced at London, England, 2002), Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2000.
Analyze This (screenplay), Warner Bros., 1999.
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (motion picture screenplay), Universal, 2000.
The Waverly Gallery (two-act play; produced at Promenade Theatre, New York, NY, 2000), Grove Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Lobby Hero (two-act play; produced in New York, NY, 2001; produced in London, England, 2002), Grove Press (New York, NY), 2001.
(And director) You Can Count On Me (screenplay; produced by Paramount Classics, 2000), Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2002.
(Rewrites, with others) Gangs of New York (screenplay), Miramax, 2002.
Also author of plays The Lost Army and Betrayal by Everyone (one-act).
WORK IN PROGRESS: Screenplay adaptations of The Once and Future King by T. H. White, and Time and Again, by Jack Finney.
SIDELIGHTS: Kenneth Lonergan began writing in the ninth grade at Walden School, a private school in Manhattan, when his drama teacher asked him to collaborate on a play. This experience led him to graduate from the playwriting program at New York University. While still an undergraduate, his first play, The Rennings Children, was chosen for the Young Playwright's Festival of 1982. Following graduation, he began work as a speechwriter at the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as writing industrial shows for clients such as Weight Watchers and Fuji Film. All the while, he continued his theatrical writing, participating in readings and workshops with the Naked Angels off-Broadway theater troupe.
Lonergan's mother and stepfather are psychiatrists and his father is a retired doctor and medical researcher. According to Peter Marks in a New York Times article, the influence of their professions can be seen in many of his works: In The Rennings Children Lonergan, who has a brother, half-brother, and several step-siblings, explores the relationship between a teenage boy committed to a psychiatric institution after being involved in an automobile accident that killed his best friend, and the boy's young married sister, who tries in vain to prevent her brother's mental disintegration. Likewise in the analytical vein, Lonergan's screenplay Analyze This, which became a successful motion picture starring Robert deNiro and Billy Crystal, is the story of a Mafia don suffering anxiety attacks who enters psychotherapy.
Marks commented: "[Lonergan's] family's deep therapeutic connections no doubt also help to account for the acute distillation of human behavior and revelatory exactitude of language in his work." Marks also quoted film and theater director, Scott Elliott, of the New Group Off Broadway company that premiered This Is Our Youth: "He's an ultrarealist," said Elliott. "It's the same way he is when you talk to him. You sort of get everything. There are no masks. There is a true emotional resonance that I think makes his plays bigger than they seem."
This Is Our Youth was expanded from Lonergan's oneact play Betrayal by Everyone, which gained attention during the 1993 festival of short plays at the Met Theater in New York. The play, which Pamela Renner described in American Theatre as an "ascerbic comedy about two boy-men taking cover from the adult world," has a cast of three and takes place entirely in an Upper West Side apartment. It is the 1980s, and the apartment belongs to twenty-two-year-old Dennis, son of an affluent Upper West Side family and college dropout who prefers to deal drugs than end up like his elitist parents. In the same vein, Warren, a sensitive youth of eighteen, quits college, stuffs childhood memorabilia and $15,000 stolen from his parents into a sack, and is ultimately granted refuge by the dominating, verbally abusive, and cruel Dennis. The story follows their resistance to the inevitable transition into adulthood. "They have enough unfocused angst to claim membership in the Holden Caulfield Hall of Arrested Development," wrote Renner. The girl of Warren's dreams, Jessica, plays devil's advocate, and introduces the locus to Lonergan's play: that aging inevitably produces self-forgetting because, in the growing-up process, one becomes a different person. "It's a testament to Lonergan's slyness and restraint as a writer that one comes to care powerfully about this hapless Warren—who has a way of reminding you instinctively how much the empty spaces inside your heart ached at this age."
The Waverly Gallery, perhaps Lonergan's most autobiographical work, resembles Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie in that it is a "memory" play. It follows the experience of his grandmother from the perspective of a grandson as she descends by degrees into Alzheimer's disease. While the play received good reviews in general, Charles Isherwood, writing for Variety, commented: "The life trauma being depicted has an inherent pathos, and in Lonergan's hands, no small amount of comic potential. And yet, while Lonergran mines his subject with delicacy and wit, he runs out of dramatic ore well before the evening's end." While the play received positive critical acclaim in general, it never attained commercial success.
Lobby Hero landed on the top-ten list in Best Plays of 2001-2002. Toby Young, in his review for Spectator, wrote: "Lobby Hero is a fantastic play but I'd be hard pushed to say why. You can tell it's good because, within about five minutes, any sense you have of being a member of the audience, sitting down and watching a group of actors perform on stage, has vanished....In what amounts to an out-of-body experience, you're totally absorbed in what's going on." Set in the foyer of a middle-income Manhattan apartment building in the middle of the night, the play follows an easy-going doorman in his late twenties, his not-so-easy-going supervisor, and an overbearing cop and his rookie female partner. The characters quickly find themselves involved in a complicated situation involving homicide, sexual assault, and perjury. Young said: "Lonergan is particularly good, both here and in This Is Our Youth, at showing how good intentions can be undermined by unconscious desires. Few of his characters are capable of resisting their own malignant impulses."
Lonergan's screenwriting assignments include the gangland comedy Analyze This, which became a successful motion picture, and—as a writer-for-hire—The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Following hot on that film's tail was You Can Count on Me, an award-winning film. Not only did Lonergan write the screenplay, he was also director and a supporting actor. Of the movie, which had its genesis as a one-act stage play, Lisa Schwarzbaum commented in Entertainment Weekly: "Characters talk to one another in this beautiful compassionate, articulate domestic drama" that tells the story of Sammy and Terry, orphaned siblings who found different ways of adapting to their situation. Sammy, while raising her eight-year-old son in the upstate New York family home, lives a life of habit and excessive control. Terry, who buries his grief by refusing to commit anywhere to anyone and leaves behind him a wake of disaster, suddenly appears at Sammy's in need of money. "The unexpected attachment he forms with his nephew rattles his sister so much," wrote Schwarzbaum, "that she's shaken out of complacency.... [The movie] is so delicate and low-keyed a drama of deep feelings that it hinges all the more crucially on dramatic subtlety."
In Back Stage West Jamie Painter Young noted that Lonergan decided the only way the movie script would retain its essence was if he directed it. Even so, realizing the production company had ultimate say in the editing process he called successful film-making friend Martin Scorsese—whom he felt confident would respect him as a director—to produce the film. Scorsese accepted the invitation, and ultimately found little that needed to be changed. "As much as Lonergan enjoyed the challenge of directing his first film," commented Young, "he admitted that his primary love remains writing."
Lonegan's play Lobby Hero attests to that, as does the fact that—as a screenwriter-for-hire—he is in much demand. He wrote The Lost Army for Scorsese's company, and was hired for on-the-set rewrites in Rome, Italy, for Scorsese's ambitious Gangs of New York. Lonergan planned to produce screenplay adaptations of The Once and Future King by T. H. White and Time and Again by Jack Finney.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, December 9, 2000, Richard A. Blake, review of You Can Count on Me, p. 22.
American Theatre, January, 1999, Pamela Renner, review of This Is Our Youth, p. 54.
Back Stage West, November, 2000, Jamie Painter Young, "In the Driver's Seat," p. 18; February 28, 2002, T.H. McCulloh, review of Lobby Hero, p. 23.
Christian Century, December 13, 2000, review of You Can Count on Me, p. 1307.
Entertainment Weekly, November 17, 2000, Lisa Schwarzbaum, "Upstate of Grace: A Brother and Sister Are Reunited in the Home Where They Were Orphaned as Children in You Can Count on Me,"p.92.
Hollywood Reporter, February 27, 2002, Ed Kaufman, review of Lobby Hero; April 30, 2002, Bill Hagerty, review of Lobby Hero, p. 22.
Interview, November, 2000, Graham Fuller, review of You Can Count on Me, p. 106.
Los Angeles Magazine, December, 2000, James Greenberg, review of You Can Count on Me, p. 96.
National Review, December 4, 2000, John Simon, review of This Is Our Youth.
New Republic, April 5, 1999, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Analyze This, p. 28; June 28, 1999, Robert Brustein, review of You Can Count on Me, p. 36.
New York Times, March 12, 2001, Peter Marks, "Artist at Work, Kenneth Lonergan, Finding the Drama in Real Life," p. E1
Spectator, April 6, 2002, Toby Young, review of This Is Our Youth, p. 38; April 20, 2002, Toby Young, review of Lobby Hero, p. 47.
Time, November 27, 2000, Richard Schickel, review of You Can Count on Me, p. 92.
Variety, November 9, 1998, Charles Isherwood, review of This Is Our Youth, p. 40; February 7, 2000, Emanuel Levy, review of You Can Count on Me, p. 52; March 27, 2000, Charles Isherwood, review of The Waverly Gallery, p. 33; July 10, 2000, Joe Leydon, review of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, p. 20; January 8, 2001, Claude Brodesser, "Playwright Embraces Director's Reins," p. S17; March 19, 2001, Christopher Isherwood, review of Lobby Hero, p. 40; April 1, 2002, Matt Wolf, review of This Is Our Youth, p. 40.
Hollywood.com Web site,http://www.hollywood.com/ (June 5, 2002), "Kenneth Lonergan."
indieWIRE,http://www.indiwire.com/ (June 5, 2002), Andrea Meyer, "Interview: You Can Count on Kenneth Lonergan."*