Master Playwright Festival to feature works by Pulitzer-prize winning writer John Patrick Shanley


This year’s Master Playwright Festival is giving theatregoers a glimpse into the lives of the downtrodden and out-of-place by honouring the dramatic works of John Patrick Shanley. Shanley, an Irish-American playwright and screenwriter, is one of only two other artists to win a Pulitzer Prize, an Oscar and a Tony Award.

“Shanley gives voice to the misfit as he explores community, family, and the search for love within the magic forces surrounding us,” said festival producer Chuck McEwen. “He asks who are we? On what am I built?”

The Master Playwright Festival, an annual theatre event, was created in 2001 by the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. Every year the festival honours a playwright whose work may not be known to a Winnipeg audience.

This year’s festival, dubbed ShanleyFest after its chosen honouree, will feature 11 full productions by Winnipeg theatre companies as well as two play readings, three films and two lectures, all about or written by Shanley.

One of Shanley’s earlier plays, Savage in Limbo, is being produced by Vault Projects. It features an all-female cast of five characters in a Bronx bar, bored with their monotonous lives.

Savage in Limbo, produced by Vault Projects, will open on Feb. 4 at Fools + Horses for ShanleyFest./GRAEME HOUSSIN

“There’s a real ambivalence and moral ambiguity in this play that’s really familiar to me as a young person in today’s world,” said Frances Koncan, owner of Vault Projects and both the director of and actor in Savage in Limbo. “It shows that history just repeats over and over.”

Savage in Limbo will be Vault Projects’ second contribution to the Master Playwright Festival after producing The Hollow for last year’s event honouring Agatha Christie.

Local theatre company Beau Theatre Co. is producing Women of Manhattan, a play originally produced in 1986. Director Sami Desiree said it was Shanley’s way of writing his female characters that attracted her to the script.

The cast of Women of Manhattan by John Patrick Shanley, produced by Beau Theatre Co., open on Feb. 8 at Cre8ery Gallery and Studio./ANDREA CASE

“At the time, he was really trying to make a statement about the roles women play in relationships, in life,” said Desiree.

The play focuses on the lives of three women as they navigate self-identity and relationships.

“I wanted to make it into our own celebration of gender and what it means to be truly yourself,” said Desiree.

Shanley’s work is known for its controversial themes. His 2004 play Doubt: A Parable, about a nun’s suspicion of inappropriate relations in a 1960’s Catholic school, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. Its 2008 film adaptation earned Shanley an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and the four top billed actors a nomination each.

Shanley also received the Academy Award for Best Original Picture for his 1987 film Moonstruck.

“Theatregoers will recognize in John Patrick Shanley an honest, unpretentious, self-deprecating writer who reveals hidden beauty,” said McEwen. “One might say he and Winnipeg have a lot in common.”

ShanleyFest runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 18. For show listings and times, visit the Master Playwright Festival’s website at