Sherman, Jason 1962-
SHERMAN, Jason 1962-
PERSONAL: Born July 28, 1962, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; son of Cyril and Grace Sherman; married Melinda Little, June 24, 1989; children: one son, one daughter. Education: York University, B.A., 1985.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Jeff Alpern, The Alpern Group, 4400 Coldwater Canyon, Ste. 125, Studio City, CA 91604.
CAREER: Writer, editor, and director. Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, playwright-inresidence, 1992-1999; Soulpepper Theatre, Toronto, playwright-in-residence, 2002-03. what (literary magazine), founding editor, 1985, editor, 1985-90. Director of stage productions, including A League of Nathans, 2003.
MEMBER: Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists, Writers Guild of Canada, Writers Guild of America, Playwrights Guild of Canada.
AWARDS, HONORS: Chalmers Canadian Play Award, 1993, for The League of Nathans; Governor-General's Award for best Canadian play of the year, 1995, for Three in the Back, Two in the Head; Canadian Authors Association Award for Drama, 1997, for The League of Nathans; named Best Local Playwright, Now magazine readers' poll, 1999, 2000-01, 2003; Chalmers Award, 1999, for Patience.
A Place like Pamela, produced by Walkoly Shadow Theatre, 1990.
To Cry Is Not So (play adaptation from the stories of Julio Cortazar), produced at Theatre Smith Gilmour, 1991.
The League of Nathans (produced in Toronto at Orange Dog Theatre/Theatre Passe Muraille, 1992; also see below), Scirocco, 1996.
Three in the Back, Two in the Head (produced in Toronto at Tarragon Theatre/Necessary Angel Theatre, 1994; also see below), Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
The Retreat (produced in Toronto at Tarragon Theatre, 1996; also see below), Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.
Reading Hebron (produced in Toronto at Factory Theatre; also see below), Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.
None Is Too Many (adaptation of the book by Irving Abella and Harold Troper; produced in Winnipeg, Manitoba, at Winnipeg Jewish Theatre/Manitoba Theatre Centre, 1997), Canadia Theatre Review, 1998.
Patience (produced in Toronto at Tarragon Theatre, 1998; produced in London, England, 2005; also see below), Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
It's All True (produced at Tarragon Theatre, 1998; also see below), Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.
Six Plays (includes Three in the Back, Two in the Head, The League of Nathans, The Retreat, Reading Hebron, Patience, and It's All True), Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.
An Acre of Time (based on the book by Phil Jenkins), Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.
Remnants (A Fable) (produced in Toronto at Tarragon Theatre), Playwrights Canada Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.
(With Judith Thompson and David Young) The Wrecking Ball, produced at Factory Theatre, Toronto, 2004.
Author of scripts for television series Hoop Life, c. 1999-2000, and for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation programs Cover Me, ReGenesis, and The Atwood Stories.
Canadian Brash (fiction, drama, and poetry), Coach House Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.
Solo (drama), Coach House Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.
Also author of radio series National Affairs, CBC, 1997-2000.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A screenplay adaptation of his play Three in the Back, Two in the Head; stage adaptations of works by Chekhov, Brecht, and Dostoevsky.
SIDELIGHTS: Compared by some critics to American writer/director David Mamet due to his use of rapid-fire dialogue and overtly staged scenes, Canadian playwright Jason Sherman has had success as both a dramatist and an editor. While cast as somewhat of an iconoclast in the early 1990s, he quickly rose to be a major influence on Toronto theatre with productions such as Three in the Back, Two in the Head, It's All True, and Patience, the last which has been produced numerous times since first being staged in 1998. According to Kate Taylor in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Sherman's political bent and the increasing complexity of his human dramas has made his "one of the most sophisticated voices in Canadian Theatre."
Early in his career, Sherman was a founder of the literary magazine what, and the editor of the 1991 anthology Canadian Brash, which provided a forum for two playwrights, two fiction writers, and one poet hailed as among the most promising in Canada. The works of the five writers anthologized in Canadian Brash have in common "a fascination with marginalized characters who express an evolutionary kind of self-consciousness," according to Dayv James-French in Books in Canada. Calling the volume "an excellent introduction to their distinctive voices," James-French lavished praise on dramatists David Demchuck and Sally Clark, story writers Peter McGehee and Rick Hillis, and poet Lynn Crosbie. A positive review also came from Quill & Quire.
Sherman's next anthology, 1994's Solo, is a collection of twelve performance pieces for a solo actor, all of which had previously been produced on the stage. Quill & Quire's Elizabeth Mitchell, observing that some of the pieces were inevitably stronger than others, added: "Sherman astutely takes up the task at hand and creates a sonata that resonates with the theme of loneliness…. Sherman's deft hand at arranging helps cushion the weaker works where the theme is barely discernible." A reviewer for Books in Canada, Jeniva Berger, commented that although all of the stories dramatized in the volume were strong, some of them worked better onstage than on the page. The stream-of-consciousness monologues, she maintained, were in this category, with the more traditional pieces appealing more to her as a reader. She called Solo "a striking tribute to the craft of the one-act, single-character play."
It has been as a playwright rather than editor, however, that Sherman has achieved a reputation for producing comedy with a serious core. His 1996 work, The League of Nathans presents three Jewish friends, all named Nathan, who had formed a club (named in the play's title) in childhood and who, in adulthood, go their separate ways while reuniting occasionally for support. The protagonist, Nathan Abramowitz, is obsessed with the question of what it means to be a good Jew and dissatisfied with all the self-assured answers given to him by the people he asks; this subject, commented Paul Matwychuk in Quill & Quire, opened the play up for exploration of even larger questions such as why we are here on earth, and what actions we are obliged to take in support of our beliefs. Asserting that "Sherman has a great gift for comic dialogue," Matwychuk also praised the author for juggling complicated flashbacks and for seriously considering his themes. Matwychuk declared, "The League of Nathans is an immensely entertaining play which, time and again, masterfully executes one of the great theatrical tricks: Sherman is an expert at allowing the prevailing comic tone of his play to give way and reveal the unexpected sadness and confusion hiding just beneath…. The seam between the two moods is invisible." In 2003 Sherman directed a revival of the highly popular play.
Matwychuk also reviewed Sherman's The Retreat, which concerns a romantic and artistic triangle with historical overtones. David Fine, a movie producer, is disillusioned with his productions; seeking something more meritorious, he settles upon a script about a seventeenth-century rabbi. David invites the screenwriter, Rachel, to attend a workshop he is holding at a resort. Meanwhile, David's partner, Jeff, coaxes Rachel into vulgarizing her own screenplay for commercial reasons. Matwychuk noted some unconvincing elements in The Retreat 's narrative: he expressed a lack of certainty either that David would really become enamored with Rachel's script or that Rachel would be so willing to adulterate it. If Rachel's script had merely been commercialized rather than debased, the critic argued, Sherman's plot might be more plausible. Nevertheless, Matwychuk added: "The play moves along with a lot of zip, and scores a lot of points off the movie industry…. And Sherman's knack for funny offhand dialogue is always in evidence." Matwychuk concluded: "Pop culture can be uplifting and worthy art, too; Jason Sherman has proved the fact himself in play after play."
Other stage successes have followed in quick succession. Patience focuses on Reuben during a downturn in his life. Losing his job, being abandoned by his wife, and coping with his brother's death, he attempts to find some meaning in his life but comes to realize that, through his focus on succeeding in business, he has rejected the things that matter most, trading family and ethical standards for material gains, an empty spirituality, and hollow relationships. Describing the play as "sharp, hard, often funny, occasionally frustrating and always ambitious" in a Globe and Mail review, Kate Taylor also noted that Sherman creates a protagonist who is difficult to like, making the play's appeal "intellectual rather than emotional." Indeed, Reuben's ultimate decision—to isolate himself rather than turn to those who still love him—"leaves one questioning the central character's journey and debating philosophy with his creator," Taylor added. Commenting on the London production of Patience, Michael Billington wrote in a Manchester Guardian review that the playwright's interjection of a "perverse theatrical gaiety" and the "ingenious tricks" he plays with the action's chronology create irony while drawing on chaos theory and other philosophical speculations. In Reuben, Sherman has modeled "a curious and well-observed villain" whose boorish self-absorption—not only in his current difficulty, but also throughout his life—drains "the life out of any room full of people," added New Statesman critic Michael Portillo. The critic concluding that Patience is a "gripping journey into the mind of a man who has lost it all," guided by Sherman's "authentic and highly entertaining" dialogue.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Theatre, April, 2000, Stephen Nunns, "Canada's Premier Playwright Warily Eyes the South," pp. 31-32, 55.
Books in Canada, March, 1991, p. 43; April 1, 1994, p. 46.
Canadian Book Review Annual, 1994, p. 244; 1995, p. 239.
Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), May 6, 2000, Janet Coutts, review of Reading Hebron, p. D11.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 6, 1998, Kate Taylor, review of Patience, p. C7; October 18, 1999, Kate Taylor, review of It's All True.
Guardian (Manchester, England), January 8, 2005, Michael Billington, review of Patience, p. 20.
Los Angeles Times, April 8, 1999, Philip Brandes, review of Three in the Back, Two in the Head.
Maclean's, December 2, 1996, p. 93.
New Statesman, January 17, 2005, Michael Portillo, review of Patience, p. 44.
Philadelphia Inquirer, January 28, 1997, Cifford A. Ridley, review of Three in the Back, Two in the Head, p. F1.
Quill & Quire, December, 1990, p. 22; March, 1994, pp. 70, 72; July, 1996, p. 47; December, 1996, p. 32.
Time, February 1, 1999, Craig Offman, "Everything's Relative: Playwright Jason Sherman's Flair for Seeing All the Tortured Sides of an Issue Is Earning Acclaim."
Toronto Star, February 21, 1996, Vit Wagner, review of The Retreat, p. D4.
Variety, March 9-15, 1998, Mira Friedlander, review of Patience, pp. 53-54.
Voice Literary Supplement, April, 1994, p. 32.
Canadian Encyclopedia Online, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/ (August 5, 2004), "Jason Sherman."
Playwrights Union of Canada, http://www.canadaart.info/bc_insE/org_bc/puc.html/ (August 5, 2004), "Jason Sherman."