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Wallace Shawn


Writers: Playwrights

Wallace Shawn was born in New York City and has spent most of his life there. He attended Harvard College where he studied history and then went to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Wallace wrote his first play FOUR MEALS IN MAY in 1967. Since then he has written numerous plays, many of which premiered at Joe Papp’s Public Theatre. OUR LATE NIGHT premiered there in 1975, and was shortly followed by A THOUGHT IN THREE PARTS in 1976, which went on to have a London run with Max Stafford-Clark directing for the Joint Stock Theatre Company in 1977. MARIE AND BRUCE opened at the Public Theater in 1978 and was subsequently directed by Les Waters at the Royal Court in 1979. In 1977, Wallace Shawn first translated the opera THE MANDRAKE for Joe Papp and the director Wilfred Leach. Wilfred Leach suggested that Wallace himself should play the Prologue and Siro, and so started his acting career. He has since appeared in eighteen films, among them MANHATTAN, SAIGON YEAR OF THE CAT, THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE and VANYA ON 42ND STREET. Meanwhile, his writing career gathered apace. Wallace’s play AUNT DAN AND LEMON was first presented at the Royal Court Theatre in 1985 and subsequently at Joe Papp’s Public Theatre in New York, returning again to the London stage in 1999 at the Almeida. His play THE FEVER opened at the Public Theater in 1991 and was then presented jointly at the Royal Court and the Royal National Theatre and on tour in the UK in 2009, coming back to London in 2015 at the Almeida. Wally’s play THE DESIGNATED MOURNER opened at the Cottesloe Theatre at the National in 1997, and his adaptation of Brecht’s THE THREEPENNY OPERA came to Roundabout and Studio 54 in 2006. Also in 2006, his opera THE MUSIC TEACHER went to the Minetta Lane Theater in New York. He wrote the opera with his brother, the composer Allan Shawn, their second major collaboration after their 1976 short opera IN THE DARK. Wally’s new play GRASSES OF A THOUSAND COLOURS opened at the Royal Court Jerwood Upstairs in 2009 and went to the Public Theater in 2013. His newest play, EVENING AT THE TALK HOUSE, premiered at the National Theatre in 2015 and at the New Group in New York in 2017. Film work includes MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, in 1980, and an adaptation of Ibsen’s THE MASTER BUILDER in 2013, which was directed by Jonathan Demme.

"a dangerous writer. A very rare species. He tells people things about themselves that they don't want to know." (Joe Papp)


“A mordant comedy for those who really listen in the theatre… A playwright of astonishing originality and veracity” (New York Times)


“A profoundly engaging and provocative journey through the awakening of a pampered man’s conscience.” (Newsday)