Wallace Shawn Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In addition to his stage plays, Wallace Shawn has written two opera librettos, In the Dark and The Music Teacher, and two screenplays, My Dinner with André (1981) and The Designated Mourner (1997), both adaptations of his stage plays.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

After a slow start, Wallace Shawn established himself as a leading writer in the Off-Broadway theater. His first play to receive a major production, Our Late Night, as staged by André Gregory’s Manhattan Project at the Public Theatre, received an Obie Award in 1975. His play Aunt Dan and Lemon shared that same award with several other plays in 1985. The Fever won the Obie Award for Best Play of 1991; in accepting the award, he expressed surprise, because he did not consider the lengthy monologue to be a play. Shawn’s work, though often taking as its subject extremely violent thoughts or antisocial behavior, has been praised for its accuracy in representing the emotional qualities of contemporary American life. His plays make unusual demands on audiences, who must respond to his characters with comic insight and intellectual energy. Shawn’s distinctive voice is one of insidiously timid argumentation, an impression that is reinforced by his frequent appearances as a humorously innocuous character in contemporary films, yet he is also capable of writing shrill, viscerally affecting drama. Shawn’s major works are distinctively unconventional, and he is among the most provocative writers in the U.S. theater.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Billington, Michael. “A Play of Ideas Stirs Political Passions.” The New York Times, October 27, 1985, p. B1. Billington discusses with Shawn the controversy over the political implications of Aunt Dan and Lemon. Shawn explains his dialogic theory of audience communication.

King, W. D., John Lahr, and Wallace Shawn. Writing Wrongs: The Work of Wallace Shawn. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997. The first comprehensive study of Shawn’ s life and literary output, analyzing each play and placing it in the context of drama from the Greeks to the present.

Posnock, Ross. “New York Phantasmagoria.” Raritan 11 (Fall, 1991): 142-159. Shawn’s concerns in The Fever are cleverly juxtaposed with those of New York intellectual Richard Sennett. Both writers are concerned with the contemporary crisis of human values in urban culture.

Rees, Jasper. “A Life in Two Halves.” The Daily Telegraph, May 3, 1999, p. 18. Discusses the disparity between Shawn’s challenging plays and his roles in films he describes as “silly,” such as Toy Story and Toy Story 2. Shawn says that his fifty or so film and television roles pay for his writing.

Savran, David. “Wally Shawn.” In In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New...

(The entire section is 436 words.)