Sherman, Jonathan Marc 1968-
SHERMAN, Jonathan Marc 1968-
Born 1968, in Morristown, NJ; son of Ronald (former corporate vice president and a patent lawyer) and Barbara Daniels Sherman (deceased); married Alexandra Elizabeth Shiva (a film director and producer), May 17, 2003. Education: Graduated from Bennington College; later attended Yale School of Drama and Oxford University.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Dramatists Play Service, 440 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016.
Playwright and actor. Acting roles include appearing in Israel Horovitz's The Chopin Playoffs, American Jewish Theatre; Artful Dodger in Oliver!, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera; role in My First Swedish Bombshell (television special); role in Luigi Pirandello's A Joke, Malaparte Theatre Company. Cofounder, Malaparte Theatre Company.
Women and Wallace (produced in New York, NY, at Young Playwrights Festival, 1988), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1989.
Veins and Thumbtacks (produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1991), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1992.
Sophistry (produced off-Broadway, 1993), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1995.
Three Short Plays (contains Serendipity and Serenity, Sons and Fathers, and Jesus on the Oil Tank,) Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1995.
Wonderful Time (produced in New York, NY, at WPA Theater, 1996), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1997.
Evolution (produced off-Broadway, 2002), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to Plays for Young Audiences III, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1989. Author of screenplay Sophistry for Gracie Films and Sony.
A production of Women and Wallace was filmed on PBS television series American Playhouse.
Jonathan Marc Sherman made an exceptionally early start as a playwright. He began writing at age thirteen and had his first play produced when he was just nineteen, when Women and Wallace was featured in the 1988 Young Playwrights Festival. After earning a degree from Bennington College, Sherman briefly attended the Yale School of Drama, then spent two months studying with British playwright Alan Ayckbourn at Oxford University. He has since written numerous plays. Sherman's plays are typically humorous, dark, and ironic, confronting big personal and social problems. Critics have repeatedly been tantalized by his work, often finding it imperfect but so well written that they want and expect more. Working with others to create more places Off-Broadway where young playwrights can get their work produced, Sherman has helped found the Malaparte Theatre with actor Ethan Hawke.
Sherman's first play, Women and Wallace, is based on personal experience: the death of his mother by suicide when he was a young boy. In a blackly comic fashion, Sherman shows how the title character has struggled in his relationships with women as he grows from six to nineteen years of age, having associated women with betrayal. This view affects Wallace's interactions with his therapist, his grandmother, and his girlfriends, including his first sexual encounter. Reviewers considered the play to be an exceptionally strong work by a writer so young. In the New York Times, Mel Gussow pointed out that Sherman "has a gift for acerbic, self-mocking dialogue, and sometimes, he tries too hard to be clever." According to New York critic John Simon, "the play deliberately teeters between near-absurdist farce and wistful comedy with a darker strain or two, and it is to Sherman's not inconsiderable credit that he can carry off such a tricky mixture with such apple-cheeked aplomb." Simon concluded, "Sherman plainly has what it takes." In the New Yorker, Edith Oliver added that "it is almost impossible to believe that he is a beginner."
The subject of Sophistry is the difficulty of finding the truth in a sexual harassment case at a New England university. The playwright enacts two versions of what happened between a college professor and a student, both men. In a review for Time, William A. Henry III described the scenes as "an almost random set of fashionably themed vignettes" and regarded the play as a whole as "keenly observed if scattershot." Back Stage's Eric Grode commented on what he referred to as unsympathetic characters, calling the work "an engaging, articulate sham of a play." Similarly, Los Angeles Times writer Scott Collins found that the "script can't decide what it wants to be" and concluded, "While fitfully amusing, it's all pointless in light of the harassment theme."
The play Wonderful Time is one of Sherman's more lighthearted works. A young man confesses to his fiancée that he has been unfaithful and on the eve of his best friend's wedding finds himself without a date. A woman he hardly knows accepts his invitation to travel across the country to the event. In a review for Back Stage, Eric Grode suggested that "none of it is exactly ground-breaking, but [Wonderful Time] takes a simple story, tells it well, and even adds a few nice twists at the end." Michael Feingold reflected in Village Voice that "Sherman's new opus is thread-thin in its slightness, but too wryly wise in its writing to be brushed off as mere commercial showbiz." And he wondered, "Will Sherman ever let loose with the bigness that keeps looming behind his scripts, or will he content himself with turning out fine-tuned trifles?"
Sherman contemplates a much larger theme in his play Evolution, a criticism of contemporary culture and education. The plot follows a Ph.D. student who, while on a visit to southern California, struggles with his dissertation about nineteenth-century English naturalist Charles Darwin. Completely out of touch with popular culture, the student is tapped by his girlfriend's brother to become a television producer because he has the ability to develop fresh ideas. Two reviewers had contrasting responses to the play. In the New York Times, Bruce Weber wrote that it "alternately feels pretentious and tired." However, Weber concluded that Sherman "does have one important issue to raise here … why bother with academia or art now that society has apparently evolved … into one that does not value these things?" Marilyn Stasio reviewed the play for Variety and was pleased with how Sherman "sends up this familiar material with irreverent originality." Describing the playwright's impact on the audience, she said, "His ironic humor and pop-culture mindset appeal to a youthful audience that thinks it knows all, while the educated wit of his satirical style assures an older generation that he's not just talking to wise-ass college kids."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 55, 1989.
Back Stage, January 13, 1996, William Stevenson, "Jonathan Marc Sherman: Having a 'Wonderful Time,'" p. 34; February 9, 1996, Eric Grode, review of Wonderful Time, p. 35; April 18, 1997, Grode, review of Sophistry, p. 41.
Los Angeles Times, November 17, 1995, Scott Collins, review of Sophistry, p. 24.
New York, October 3, 1988, John Simon, "Youth Wants to Know," pp. 78-79.
New Yorker, October 3, 1988, Edith Oliver, "Winners," p. 91.
New York Times, September 23, 1998, Mel Gussow, "Writings of Passage," section C, p. 3; October 2, 2002, Bruce Weber, review of Evolution, p. 5.
Time, October 25, 1993, William A. Henry III, review of Sophistry, p. 87.
Variety, October 7, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of Evolution.
Village Voice, January 23, 1996, Michael Feingold, review of Wonderful Time, p. 77.*