An interview with Oscar and Tony winner John Patrick Shanley, author of the Seattle Rep play, “Outside Mullingar.”
He is the son of an Irish immigrant. He grew up in an Irish-Italian working class sector of the Bronx. But it took successful dramatist John Patrick Shanley a long time and a special visit to the mother country before he got interested in writing “Outside Mullingar,” his first work set in Ireland.
“I went over with my father in 1993, and when I was listening to people talk in the kitchen of the family farm my cousin now runs, I got it,” explained Shanley, who was in town this week to attend the Seattle Repertory Theatre production of the play. “I thought, ‘Yes. These are my people.’
“The verbal culture is incredible there. Everything my aunt and uncle and cousins were saying was publishable. You could just quote them verbatim.”
Shanley was also inspired by the strong bonds between his relations, their obvious love for and loyalty to one another.
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“I wanted to put on stage something I hadn’t seen,“ said the Oscar winner (for the film “Moonstruck”) and Tony Award recipient (for the play “Doubt.”) “Sometimes a son and a father, a mother and a daughter, just love each other, without equivocation, without apology.”
Our current cultural fashion of irony holds little appeal for Shanley.
“We’re afraid of sincerity. To be sincere and let it stand, without further discussion. I’m saying this is how they are, my particular family.” He even honored some relatives in “Outside Mullingar” by naming characters in the fictional story after his Uncle Tony and cousins Anthony and Rosemary.
Shanley is having a busy year. He’s adapting the best-seller “Factory Man” for an HBO series, and his latest play, “Prodigal Son,” debuts next season at the Manhattan Theatre Club.
Whether another Irish play is in his future, given his many return visits to family in the Emerald Isle, Shanley cannot say. “It’s a powerful, strange country, and I only have the right to write about one farm there. This is what I know.”