Kenneth Lonergan grew up in New York City and has lived there his entire life. He attended the Walden School in Manhattan and graduated from New York University. He began writing plays in high school and at age eighteen saw his play The Rennings Children produced by the Young Playwrights Festival in 1982. After graduating from college, he was affiliated with Naked Angels, an Off-Broadway troupe, while also working as a speechwriter and corporate scriptwriter.
Lonergan’s father was a doctor and his mother a psychiatrist; after they divorced, his mother married another psychiatrist. Lonergan has a brother, half-brother, and several stepsiblings, and relationships among siblings are an important theme in his work. He also drew on personal experience in writing The Waverly Gallery, based on his observations of his grandmother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
The stage success of This Is Our Youth led Lonergan to Hollywood to work on a variety of projects, including the box-office and critical failure The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Although unhappy with the process of writing screenplays under studio control, Lonergan did not abandon screenwriting but instead sought independent production for You Can Count on Me. The play Lobby Hero, though produced after the film success in 2001, was written and contracted for production in 1998. In 2000, Lonergan married J. Smith-Cameron, an actress who appears in You Can Count on Me.
Kenneth Lonergan became a popular playwright in New York and London during the late 1990’s. At the same time he achieved acclaim as a screenwriter, particularly for the independent feature film You Can Count on Me, which he also directed. The impact of his work derives in part from his emphasis on people who yearn for personal connection but either lack goals or have self-destructive, sometimes criminal ambitions. Whether his characters grope for language in the face of Alzheimer’s disease or founder with the inarticulateness of youth, Lonergan dramatizes their struggle for self-expression, even when they may not know what they want to say.
Born and raised on the upper West Side of Manhattan, Lonergan acknowledges himself as a child of privilege. His father was a doctor and his mother a psychiatrist; later his mother remarried a fellow psychiatrist, and Lonergan grew up in a blended family with numerous siblings. The family atmosphere was analytical and rational, with no formal religious upbringing; Lonergan described himself in 2002 as an atheist. He attended private schools that encouraged his writing talent; work done in high school led to the selection of The Rennings Children for the Young Playwrights Festival in 1982.
Immediately after high school Lonergan made a brief beginning at college, then returned to his family’s home in New York City. Work as a doorman proved so boring that Lonergan was motivated to make a serious commitment to college, majoring in dramatic writing at New York University. Following graduation he worked as a speechwriter for the Environmental Protection Agency and also did corporate scriptwriting while developing his writing career. Financial support from his parents subsidized his apprenticeship in the Off-Broadway troupe Naked Angels. Through this association Lonergan was able to have his work read and critiqued by fellow actors, but it was nearly a decade before he obtained a professional production of a full-length play, This Is Our Youth. A one-act version, titled Betrayal by Everyone, was staged in a festival of one-acts at the Met theater in 1993, with Mark Ruffalo in the role of Warren, which he went on to reprise in later New York productions of This Is Our Youth. The three characters in this play, according to Lonergan, reflect the lifestyle of him and his friends during their late teens and early twenties: dependent on their parents for money, habitually using drugs, especially marijuana, and prone to taking life-threatening risks.
In Lonergan’s case, the postcollege...
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