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Schenkkan, Robert (Frederic, Jr.) 1953-

SCHENKKAN, Robert (Frederic, Jr.) 1953-

PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Shank-in"; born March 19, 1953, in Chapel Hill, NC; son of Robert Frederic (a public television executive) and Jean (McKenzie) Schenkkan; married Mary Anne Dorward (an actress), December 1, 1984; children: Sara Victoria, Joshua McHenry. Education: University of Texas at Austin, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1975; Cornell University, M.F.A., 1977.

ADDRESSES: Home—Seattle, WA. Agent—Bill Craver, Writers & Artists, 19 West 44th St., No. 1000, New York, NY 10036.

CAREER: Playwright. Actor in theater, film, and television.

MEMBER: Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Actors' Equity Association, New Dramatists, Dramatists Guild, Writers Guild, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Phi Beta Kappa.

AWARDS, HONORS: Best of the Fringe Award from Edinburgh Festival, 1984, for The Survivalist; Creative Artists Public Service Program (CAPS) grant from state of New York, 1985, for Final Passages; Playwrights Forum Award, 1988, for Tall Tales; Julie Harris Playwright Award from Beverly Hills Theatre Guild, 1989, for Heaven on Earth; grants from Arthur Foundation and Vogelstein Foundation, 1989, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Columbia University, 1992, Penn Center West award, 1993, all for The Kentucky Cycle; grants from Fund for New American Plays, 1990, and California Arts Council, 1991; literary award, PEN Centre USA West, 1992; Antoinette Perry Award Nomination for best play, 1994, for The Kentucky Cycle.



Final Passages (first produced as Derelict in Buffalo, NY, 1982), published in Plays in Process, Theatre Communications Group, 1983, published by Dramatists Play Service, 1993.

Intermission (one-act; see also below), produced in Louisville, KY, 1982.

Lunchbreak (one-act; see also below), produced in Louisville, KY, 1982.

The Survivalist (one-act; see also below), produced Off Broadway, 1983.

Tachinoki, produced in Los Angeles, CA, at Ensemble Studio Theatre, 1987.

Tall Tales (one-act), produced in Colorado, 1988.

Heaven on Earth, produced Off Broadway, 1989, published by Dramatists Play Service, 1992.

The Kentucky Cycle (nine one-act plays), produced in Seattle, WA, 1991, published by Dramatists Play Service, 1995.

Conversations with the Spanish Lady (one-act; see also below), 1992, published as Conversations with the Spanish Lady and Other One-Act Plays, 1993.

Four One Act Plays: Conversations with the Spanish Lady, Lunch Break, Intermission, and the Survivalist, Dramatists Play Service, 1995.

The Dream Thief, 1998, published by Dramatic Publishing, 1999.

The Handler, 1999.

Plays included in collections, including Burns & Mantle's Best Plays of 1993.


Crazy Horse (made-for-TV movie), Turner Network Television (TNT), 1996.

Also author of scripts for Magic (Showtime), The Long Ride Home (Fox Family), Our Fritz (Warner Brothers), and West of the Rising Son (Interscope).

WORK IN PROGRESS: An adaptation of Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American as a film script for Paramount Pictures.

SIDELIGHTS: Robert Schenkkan's plays have been produced Off Broadway, in regional theaters across the United States, and in Canada and England. He is also an accomplished actor who has appeared in, among other things, Star Trek: The Next Generation. His festival appearances include the Humana Festival at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Edinburgh Festival, and the DuMaurier Festival. Schenkkan's work has been developed at the O'Neill Playwrights' Conference and the Sundance Playwright's Institute.

Schenkkan won national recognition for his 1991 play The Kentucky Cycle. When it first opened in Seattle, it broke records for ticket sales, and it went on to become the first play to win a Pulitzer Prize without having been performed in New York. Set on one plot of land in rural Appalachia, The Kentucky Cycle follows the suffering-filled lives of three families from the Revolutionary War until 1975. It takes six hours to tell the whole tale; actually nine separate one-act plays, The Kentucky Cycle is usually staged in two parts.

Several reviewers noted how dark The Kentucky Cycle is. "Firearms or knives are used in seven of the plays. The other two practice violence of the soul," depicting a man losing his freedom and another losing his beloved lush homestead, noted Time critic William A. Henry III. While Denver Post reviewer Dianne Zuckerman also noted the "greed, violence and generational retribution" in The Kentucky Cycle, she thought the tale as a whole was "a crackling good yarn." "While Schenkkan's insights [into the suffering of women, ethnic minorities, and the poor] aren't new, his dramatic skill gives fresh clout to the familiar struggle between the haves and the have-nots," she declared.

Schennkan's first play for children, The Dream Thief, premiered in 1998. Susan and Jamie are the children of a writer and an actress, both of whom are struggling at the moment. Their father's largest problem is that he has lost the biological ability to dream, which has affected his sleep in potentially life-threatening ways, as well as his ability to write. Through a series of imaginative encounters in the Land of Nod featuring the Sandman (who looks suspiciously like Susan and Jamie's father) and Twinkle, the little star (who looks like their mother), the children get their parents' dreams back, thus fulfilling the play's premise as described by Shepherd Express contributor Gordon Spencer: "Without dreams we cannot live either biologically or psychologically." Spencer praised the play in his review, calling it "imaginative, intelligent, funny, [and] contemporary."

Schenkkan is also the author of the play The Handler, about a Southern family which participates in a church which handles poisonous snakes as part of its worship. The play opens with the husband, Geordi, just being released from jail. He had been convicted of manslaughter for accidently running over his young daughter when he was driving drunk. One early scene features Geordi in church with his wife, Terri. Each is praying, Geordi for forgiveness for killing his child, Terri for God not to forgive him. The audience soon finds out that Terri's wish was the one which was granted: when Geordi decides to handle the snakes, for the first time in his life, he is bitten in the neck and killed. However, he rises from the dead in the middle of his funeral service, bringing a horde of reporters to their small town. Geordi flees into the mountains and descends into his own personal hell in preparation for his eventual reconciliation with his wife. According to Walter Bilderback, who reviewed the play for American Theatre, in The Handler Schenkkan "has created moments of hypnotic power and poetic ecstasy that far surpass his accomplishment in The Kentucky Cycle."



Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.


American Theatre, April, 2000, Walter Bilderback, "Dangerous Salvation," p. 34.

Booklist, September 1, 1993, review of The Kentucky Cycle, p. 28.

Children's Book & Play Review, January, 2001, review of The Dream Thief, pp. 38+.

Christian Science Monitor, November 30, 1993, Frank Scheck, "Appalachia Stint Fuels Pulitzer-Winning Play."

Denver Post, August 25, 2000, Diane Zuckerman, "Hunger Artists Show Tells Saga of a Nation."

Los Angeles Times, April 8, 1992, Don Shirley, "Drama Pulitzer Breaks N.Y. Monopoly"; April 27, 1995, Don Shirley, "'Cycle' Retains Power in its Return to L.A."

New Yorker, November 20, 1989, Edith Oliver, review of Heaven on Earth, p. 110.

New York Times, November 12, 1989; July 5, 1996, John J. O'Connor, review of Crazy Horse, pp. B3, D9.

Rocky Mountain News, August 18, 2000, Lisa Bornstein, "An Epic Look at Cursed Lives"; August 25, 2000, Lisa Bornstein, "'Kentucky Cycle' Wobbles to Its End."

Shepherd Express, November 19, 1998, Gordon Spencer, "The Thief of Dreams."

Time, November 22, 1993, William A. Henry III, review of The Kentucky Cycle, p. 72.


Bradley University, (June 19, 2002).

Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays, (May 15, 2002).*

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