PLAYWRIGHT SPOTLIGHT: Mark Shanahan
Mark returns to Theatre Squared, having directed Around The World in 80 Days last season. As a writer, Mark was nominated by the Mystery Writer's Association of America for the Edgar Award for his stage adaptation of THE CHRONOLOGY PROTECTION CASE. He is the co-writer with Gibson Frazier of the screenplay KILL ME ALL YOU WANT (now in development with Moderncine), and the short film KILL ME, starring John Conlee and Marin Ireland. He is also the co-storywriter, along with John Hamburg of the screenplay, THE TROUBLESHOOTER, purchased by Universal Studios.
Mark is a graduate of Brown University and holds an MA from Fordham University, where he teaches courses on Shakespeare, "New York In Film" and "The Films of Alfred Hitchcock," among others. He is an artistic associate of the Hangar Theatre. Read full bio here >
How long have you been working on this script?
I’ve been kicking the idea around for a number of years, I guess. But I really buckled down and came up with a working draft just this past year.
The play is based upon a work from 1896 called Le Dindon by Georges Feydeau, the master of the door slamming sex farce. I acted in a production of it sometime around 1995, directed by the fantastic Marcia Milgrom Dodge. I’ve loved Feydeau’s work ever since. l always knew I wanted to take this large scale show and find a way to adapt it for a small cast and turn it into something a bit different.
Where did the idea come from?
As a director, I have often begged artistic directors to consider doing a Feydeau piece, but I have always been told the casts are too large and the production would be too expensive. Having acted and directed in such shows as The 39 Steps and Around The World in 80 Days, I have come to enjoy making shows in which small casts are required to play multiple roles. So, I figured if I could breathe new life into this wonderful old plot, I could help deliver a Feydeau comedy to audiences in a fresh way. I wanted to honor his play while creating something which had its own voice and a distinct sense of humor, something which would celebrate the talents of great actors playing multiple roles with the flip of a hat.
What iterations of the script have occurred (prior readings/revisions)?
Outside of gathering some friends around a dining room table just to hear it aloud, the play was given a public reading recently at Florida Repertory Theatre.
How has it changed over time?
At first, I tried to be as slavish as possible to Feydeau’s original play and I really struggled with it. I took a few passes at the script and, frankly, the whole thing felt too old fashioned, long and lackluster. I just about gave up. One day, I was mulling it over while riding the subway and it struck me, “Don’t give up! Throw out everything you don’t need, reimagine characters, create some new ones, and rewrite the dialogue in your own voice.” Suddenly, the lines were shorter, the pace was faster, the locations were fewer. There was a virginal bellboy, a New York vamp and a wild Italian girl, and the characters started sounding a bit more brash. I was still struggling with how to do the double casting, so I cut any character who wasn’t integral to the main story and I set it in the 30s. That way, I could use a telephone so an actor could essentially be speaking to himself, if needed. Along the way, I cut the very character I had played in 1995! Ah, well. Most important to me, though, is that I feel the spirit and structure of Feydeau is intact.
What is your goal for this particular workshop - what would you like to see happen with your script during the weeks of working on it here?
Happily, the play is scheduled for a New York Premiere at the Pearl Theatre on 42nd street next Spring and a few more productions within the next year. With that in mind, I’m relying on this workshop to help me get the script in the best shape possible. I’m looking to trim some lines and even a cut scene I am not sure I need. I have the opportunity at Theatre Squared to hear audiences react to the play, to see what works and what doesn’t. There is a musicality to the comedy I want to investigate and refine. I want to make sure every line has just the right amount of syllables to land the humor and make the audience laugh out loud. Also, there is one complicated section where actors come on and off as all of the many characters they play. I need to make sure I’ve written in enough time for the actors' costume changes to occur. And finally, I have two endings in mind and I’d like to try them both out.
Having input from good actors and directors is a huge help in making sure the storytelling is clear to an audience. Even though I have my eye on the New York premiere next year, I also like the thought that our Theatre Squared audience gets to see it at this stage and hopefully enjoy it, too. That’s the point of this play- to make sure an audience experiences laughter and joy.
Why are development workshops important for new plays?
Every play needs collaboration, conversation and a lot of courage for it to come to life. When a writer sits down at a keyboard it seems like such an impossible task to fill those pages with something that deserves all the work required of actors, designers and directors, as well as the time and attention of an audience. This festival is a wonderful opportunity to toy and tinker, to marvel at the way actors can make a story jump off the page. Sometimes, the ideas found in a rehearsal room deliver solutions you could never have found while sitting alone with a laptop. Books are meant to be read. Plays are meant to be acted. It’s a gift to have actors at hand to make a work come alive before an audience.
Two staged readings of The Dingdong will be held during the festival. Tickets and passes available for purchase, choose your performance date below: