By John Moore
John Patrick Shanley, who has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama (for “Doubt”) and the Academy Award for screenwriting (for “Moonstruck”) came to Fort Collins earlier this month for a weekend to work on his latest play with lucky students from the Colorado State University theatre department.
Walton Jones, director of Theatre and Dance at CSU, knows Shanley from when they worked together at the O’Neill Center’s National Theatre Institute more than 30 years ago, but they have not stayed in touch. Jones recently reached out to Shanley on Facebook asking him to come for a visit and, boom, Shanley was here from Nov. 1-3.
Jones asked Shanley if he had any material for his kids to work on, and Shanley decided to use the visit as an opportunity to get some legs under his newest work, currently titled “Vang.” (Shanley says the play eventually will be renamed “The Listeners.”)
In short order, Shanley auditioned CSU students, and cast actors Trevor Grattan, Taryn Gawronski, Brenna Otts and Ryan Miller. Under his personal direction, Shanley charged them with having the play ready to be presented as a public staged reading just 48 hours later. The noirish mystery is centered around a woman Shanley says you’d find in a Hitchcockian film — if Hitchcock ever cast women in leading roles.
Shanley says the play is about two-thirds complete. He openly sought not only comments but suggestions from the crowd about how he might improve the text. “I’m always interested in the best idea in the room, whether it’s mine or somebody else’s,” said Shanley, a prolific penner who has produced 25 plays over the past 31 years.
Shanley took questions about “Vang”; he offered insight into the cold, cruel realities of playwriting and screenwriting; and he offered some insight into his new play “Outside Mullingar,” which already is being called by some charmed critics Shanley’s “Moonstruck” for the stage — and it hasn’t even opened yet. It’s a winsome romance between two comically flawed losers in love, set in rural Ireland. It will star Debra Messing (“Will & Grace”), and Brian F. O’Byrne (“Doubt,” “Million Dollar Baby”). Shanley describes his comedy as “a love story about two people who are starving to death.” And he doesn’t (only) mean food.
The rapt crowd included many from the Colorado State and Fort Collins theatre communities, including the women who run two of Fort Collins’ most acclaimed theatre companies — Denise Freestone of OpenStage & Company (she played Sister Aloysius in Shanley’s “Doubt”), and Wendy Ishii of the nearby Bas Bleu Theatre.
Shanley is a New Yorker through and through. But joining him in Fort Collins were his brother, Tom Shanley, and his sister-in-law, Nancy, who live in Colorado Springs.
The photos below are copyright John Moore for Denver CenterStage.
John Patrick Shanley.
Shanley and CSU’s Walton Jones with a cast and crew that includes Trevor Grattan, Taryn Gawronski, Brenna Otts and Ryan Miller, along with stage manager Nichole Killion and lighting designer Andy Killion.
Shanley with OpenStage & Company co-founder Denise Freestone.
Shanley with Colorado State University director of Theatre & Dance, Walton Jones.
Shanley with a Colorado State University student.
Shanley with Wendy Ishii of Fort Collins’ Bas Bleu Theatre.
Shanley with … hey, hat’s me! (John Moore)