Shanley, John Patrick 1950–

views updated

Shanley, John Patrick 1950–

PERSONAL: Born October 13, 1950, in New York, NY; father worked as a meat-packer and mother worked as a telephone operator; married Jayne Haynes (an actress; divorced). Education: New York University, B.S., 1977, M.A.

ADDRESSES: Home—New York, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Theatre Communications Group, 520 8th Ave., 24th Fl., New York, NY 10018-4156.

CAREER: Playwright, screenwriter, and director. Also worked as a bartender and house painter. Military service: Served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

MEMBER: Writers Guild of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: Writers Guild of America Award and Academy Award (Oscar) from Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, both for best original screenplay, 1987, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle award, 1987, Golden Globe nomination, Best Screenplay—Motion Picture, 1988, British Academy of Film and Television Film Award nomination, best original screenplay, 1989, and Independent Spirit Award nomination, best screenplay, 1989, all for Moonstruck; special-jury prize at the Barcelona Film Festival for Five Corners; Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic Special, 2003, for Live from Baghdad; Pulitzer Prize for drama, Tony Award for best play, Obie Award from the Village Voice, New York's Drama Desk Award, four prizes at the Lucille Lortel Awards in New York (best play, best director, outstanding leading actress, and outstanding feature actress), Outer Critics Circle Award for best Broadway play, and Hull-Warriner Award, all 2005, all for Doubt: A Parable.



Saturday Night at the War, produced in New York, NY, 1978.

George and the Dragon, produced in New York, NY, 1979.

Rockaway, produced in New York, NY, at Vineyard Theater, 1982.

Welcome to the Moon (produced in New York, NY, 1982), published in Welcome to the Moon and Other Plays, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1985.

Savage in Limbo (produced in New York, NY, at 47th Street Theater, 1985), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1986.

the dreamer examines his pillow: A Heterosexual Homily (produced as a staged reading at the O'Neill Playwrights Conference, 1985; produced in New York, NY, at Double Image Theater, 1986), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1987.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (produced in Los Angeles, CA, at the Back Alley Theatre, 1986), published as Danny and the Deep Blue Sea: An Apache Dance, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1984.

Women of Manhattan, produced in New York, NY, at City Center Theater, 1986.

Italian American Reconciliation, produced Off-Broadway, 1988.

The Big Funk: A Casual Play, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1991.

Beggars in the House of Plenty, Dramatists Play Service, 1992.

13 by Shanley, Applause Books (New York, NY), 1992.

What Is This Everything?, produced in New York, NY, 1992.

Collected Plays, Applause (New York, NY), 1992.

Danny I Roberts (television play), Televisió Espanyola a Catalunya1993.

Four Dogs and a Bone [and] The Wild Goose, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1995.

Psychopathia Sexualis, produced in New York, NY, 1997.

Missing/Kissing: Missing Marisa, Kissing Christine, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1997.

Where's My Money?, produced in New York, NY, 2001.

Live from Baghdad (television play), HBO Films, 2002.

Dirty Story, produced in New York, NY, at the Harold Clurman Theater, 2003.

Sailor's Song: A Watercolor, produced in New York, NY, at the Public Theater, 2004.

Doubt: A Parable (produced in New York, NY, at the Manhattan Theater Club, 2004), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2005.

Defiance, produced Off-Broadway 2006.


Moonstruck, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1987.

Five Corners, Handmade Films, 1988.

The January Man, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1989.

(And director) Joe versus the Volcano, Warner Bros., 1990.

Alive (based on the novel by Piers Paul Read), Paramount, 1993.

We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story, Amblin Entertainment, 1993.

Congo (based on the novel by Michael Crichton), Paramount, 1995.

ADAPTATIONS: Several of Shanley's screenplays have been adapted into storybooks and novelizations, including We're Back!: A Dinosaur's Story, adapted by Cathy East Dubowski, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1993.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Bread and Tulips (motion picture screenplay).

SIDELIGHTS: "In order to write an effective screenplay, you have to have no distance from your material," John Patrick Shanley said in American Film. "You have to be in the scene with the characters. You cannot be cynical, you cannot be removed, you cannot be in a place where you think you know more than they know." Shanley continued: "Whatever you do in terms of telling a story, the most important thing that you can define is who you are. The stories are all out there; it's finding a place where you are in relationship to the story that will tell the story."

A popular playwright and screenwriter, Shanley first gained national attention with the 1987 film Moonstruck, a highly emotional comedy about love, passion, and the relationships of an Italian family. To Charles Champlin, writing in the Los Angeles Times, Moonstruck "seems as nearly perfect as a script ever gets." Shanley began his career writing for the theater. His dramas, commonly set in Shanley's native New York City, feature eccentric, working-class characters and explosive dialogue. According to New York critic John Simon, the playwright is most effective "when he lets his characters have at one another and themselves in torrents of rage and despair, sarcasm and sudden epiphany."

While growing up in the Bronx, Shanley encountered some of the rough-and-tough types of characters found in his plays. After Shanley was expelled from high school a few times, a priest took an interest in his welfare and sent him to a private school in New Hampshire. Shanley then attended New York University, where he received a master's degree in educational theater. During the 1980s Shanley had numerous plays produced in New York, including Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Savage in Limbo, the dreamer examines his pillow, and Italian American Reconciliation.

Though some of Shanley's plays, including the dreamer examines his pillow and Italian American Reconciliation, met with positive reception, Shanley's films have received greater critical praise and commercial success. Moonstruck, Shanley's first produced screenplay, was a surprise hit and won an Academy Award for best original screenplay. Set in Brooklyn, the film relates the romantic entanglements and relationships of the Castorini family. A Newsweek reviewer declared that almost immediately, Moonstruck "lets you know it knows it's going to revel in—and tease—every Italian-American stereotype in the book." Loretta Castorini, a widow in her late thirties, accepts an offer of marriage from timid, dull, but steady Johnny, although she does not love him. Her main concern is planning a traditional, by-the-book wedding to avoid the bad luck that she believes caused her first husband's death. Johnny leaves for Palermo to see his allegedly dying mother, instructing his fiancée to invite his estranged younger brother, Ronny, to their wedding. Violent and passionate Ronny unfairly blames Johnny for the machinery accident that claimed his hand. Quickly infatuated, Loretta and Ronny begin an affair, which Loretta soon regrets and attempts to end. As excerpted in American Film, Ronny persuades Loretta to give up her plans with Johnny by explaining his views on love: "Love don't make things nice, it ruins everything, it breaks your heart, it makes things a mess. We're not here to make things perfect. Snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and break our hearts and love the wrong people and die!"

Johnny unexpectedly arrives in town after his mother miraculously recovers. Ronny decides that that morning would be a good time to meet Loretta's family, and he and Loretta—with the rest of the family gathered around the breakfast table—wait tensely for Johnny's arrival. As Loretta readies to cancel the wedding, Johnny surprises everyone by announcing that he will not marry her; apparently he breaks the engagement to appease his dying mother. In the final scene, the family toasts themselves and the engagement of Ronny and Loretta.

Shanley populated Moonstruck with interesting minor characters, including Loretta's dog-loving grandfather and a middle-aged professor whose disastrous dinner dates with younger women at a neighborhood restaurant lead to a key scene with Mrs. Castorini. Having guessed her husband's infidelity, Mrs. Castorini questions the professor about why men are driven to affairs. "When you see that the whole cast of family members are involved in libidinal confusions," remarked Pauline Kael in the New Yorker, "the operatic structure can make you feel close to deliriously happy."

Many other critics responded enthusiastically to the film's characters, humor, and emotional mood. Praising the script as "inventively written," a reviewer for Newsweek described it as "a very knowing piece of comic artifice." Champlin contended that Moonstruck "proved beyond argument … that Shanley has a rare gift for dialogue. I'm not sure that an ear for dialogue is the way to say it. Real speech rarely has the economy, the timing, the polish that Shanley gives his talk." Summing up the film's appeal, Kael called Moonstruck "a giddy homage to our desire for grand passion. With its own special lushness, it's a rose-tinted black comedy."

Shanley's next two films, Five Corners and The January Man, did not receive the popular and critical acclaim awarded Moonstruck. Like many of Shanley's plays, Five Corners was considered off-beat. Set in the Bronx, the 1988 film concerns a violent and disturbed delinquent's behavior when released from jail. David Ansen of Newsweek described Five Corners as "a seriocomic meditation on American violence seen through the prism of a half-dozen blue-collar kids in the dawning era of the civil-rights movement." Ansen added that the ending is disappointing, as Shanley "feels compelled to bring events to a rip-roaring melodramatic conclusion, and the climax gets out of hand."

Released in 1989, The January Man is a thriller about an ex-cop who, wrongly accused of corruption, responds to a plea that he return to police work to apprehend a maniacal killer. Critics felt that film's downfall was a confusing plot.

Joe versus the Volcano marked Shanley's film directing debut. Upon reading the script, filmmaker Steven Spielberg called and offered to produce the film, leaving the directing duties to Shanley. In this 1990 film, Joe Banks, a hypochondriac working in a remarkably bleak plant that manufactures medical devices, discovers that he has a fatal "brain cloud." When his doctor informs him of this symptomless time bomb, Joe decides to live what life he has left to the fullest. Into the picture comes a billionaire who proposes a free trip to the South Seas if Joe will sacrifice himself afterwards by throwing himself into a volcano. The billionaire believes that this act will pacify the gods and ensure the success of a business deal concerning a mineral on the island. Joe agrees to the plan, begins to enjoy life, and falls in love with his benefactor's daughters—Angelica, an artistic flower-child, and Patricia, the brave skipper of her father's yacht.

Though critics appreciated the film, they faulted it for having a weak ending. Sheila Benson declared in the Los Angeles Times: "There's a quickly-tied-together feeling to it blessedly missing from the rest of the movie…. If you wish for more depth at the ending … you're not alone; the trick is to savor the trip along the way and to hope that Shanley keeps his style and deepens his substance with his next film." Some critics noted sentimentality and overstatement in Joe versus the Volcano and Shanley's other works, but Dave Kehr remarked in the Chicago Tribune: "Shanley's charm is in the obviousness of his imagery, the naive insistence of his symbols…. Yet that insistence," Kehr added, "loses all its charm once it is transformed into … windy, philosophical speeches." Benson, however, strongly affirmed Shanley's first directing venture: "Witty, disarming and beautiful, Joe is the tip-off that John Patrick Shanley is at least as distinctive a director as he has already been a playwright and screenwriter."

Doubt: A Parable is Shanley's multiple award-winning play that garnered him such prestigious prizes as an Obie Award, a Tony Award, a New York Drama Desk Award and, most prominently, the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for drama. The play, which Variety reviewer David Rooney called a "tightly wound examination of moral certainty," centers around Sister Aloysius, a Catholic nun and the principal of a Irish-Italian parish school in the Bronx, circa 1964. In the course of the play, Sister Aloysius has cause to believe that one of the local priests, the well-known and well-liked Father Flynn, has been making sexual advances to a twelve-year-old boy in the school. Ironically, it was one of Flynn's own sermons, on the subject of doubt, that triggered the Sister's suspicions. Mustering considerable willpower and determination, Sister Aloysius fights to overcome the male-dominated hierarchy of the school in order to find out the truth and bring the abusing priest to justice. "The nun's actions, no matter how fierce, unrelenting and possibly misguided, were driven always by the desire to protect and do good," Rooney commented.

In her crusade against the offending priest, Sister Aloysius meets considerable resistance. Full of steely resolve, cold and calculating, the nun persists, enlisting the aid of others to help her expose the truth. "The friction created by those clashes is what drives the play's suspense, humor and moral complexity," Rooney noted. For audiences, however, the truth of the Flynn's guilt or innocence is never blatantly stated. Though Shanley himself knows the truth, Rooney observed, the answer is left open to audience interpretation. Even Sister Aloysius's moral outrage comes into question as the play explores "how gossip and rumor as well as truth can determine the course of events," commented Back Stage contributor Leonard Jacobs. Rooney named Doubt a "fine play, a period piece trenchantly rooted in the moral climate of America today."



Contemporary Dramatists, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 75, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.


American Film, September, 1989, "John Patrick Shanley: Believes in Heroes, Advises the Moonstruck Writer; and Dare to Be a Fool," interview with John Patrick Shanley, pp. 20-24.

Back Stage, May 5, 2005, Leonard Jacobs, "Hull-Warriner Award Makes Shanley Shine," p. 6.

Chicago Tribune, March 9, 1990, Dave Kehr, "Joe versus the Volcano Revels in the Fake Look," p. 7C33.

Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1988, Charles Champ-lin, "A Moonstruck Celebration of Family Life"; February 9, 1989, Charles Champlin, "Getting Acquainted with"; March 9, 1990, Sheila Benson, "Romance under the Volcano," review of Joe versus the Volcano, p. 1.

Newsweek, December 21, 1987, David Ansen, review of Moonstruck, p. 69; January 25, 1988, David Ansen, review of Five Corners, p. 69.

New York, November 14, 1988, John Simon, review of Italian American Reconciliation, p. 103.

New Yorker, January 25, 1988, Pauline Kael, review of Moonstruck, 99.

Variety, February 20, 2006, David Rooney, review of Doubt: A Parable, p. 64.

About this article

Shanley, John Patrick 1950–

Updated About content Print Article