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The ITT List

Tuesday, Apr 8, 2008, 12:42 pm

Playwright Shinn was finalist for Pulitzer

By Jarrett Dapier
In an encouraging sign for the future of American theatre, (and the viability of politically-conscious new works for the stage), New York playwright Christopher Shinn was one of three finalists for this year's Pulitzer Prize in Drama for his play, "Dying City." In a March, 2008 interview with In These Times, Shinn stated that "Examining the psychological motivations behind people’s ideological commitments is the central project of my work." This ambition on Shinn's part is exquisitely realized in his Pulitzer-finalist play, the story of an Iraq war widow simultaneously visited by her husband's twin brother and the raumatic memories of her husband on the night he left for his last tour. The play is haunting, so spare that it gets inside you, and explores issues of war, torture, PTSD, and childhood abuse. "I’m interested in how people change," Shinn said during our interview, "I think that change happens in a real way and an authentic way at the deepest level of people’s own psyche. So, a work of art that doesn’t try to reach people at the deepest place within them – an emotional, vulnerable, frightened place – isn’t going to be able to affect any kind of real change." One night in the theatre with this one and you'll intimately witness a story about the emotional, psychological impacts of war wrought on the families left behind.

The Pulitzer Committee's recognition of Shinn's politically conscious script marks a departure for the historically conservative and risk-averse board. In years when they haven't awarded the prize to tidy, apolitical, small-scope works like "Dinner With Friends" they've opted to give no prize at all, as they did in 2006. That year, two of the three finalists on offer were beautiful, ambitious works of art (though still apolitical): Adam Rapp's "Red Light Winter" and Rolin Jones's "The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow." I imagine it was impossible for the committee to even consider the no-confidence option this year with the three finalists they had on offer, (I haven't read it, but the third play, "Yellow Man" by David Henry Hwang is supposedly nothing to sneeze at). As was widely predicted the Committee went with the fierce, huge, and addictive "August: Osage County," written by local Chicagoan Tracy Letts, so it's enough that "Dying City" made it to the final three. All told, it's been a stand-up year for the American play. Keep 'em coming.

Jarrett Dapier is a former assistant publisher at In These Times. Previous work for ITT includes interviews with playwright Christopher Shinn and Fugazi guitarist, Ian Mackaye. He currently works with teens at the Evanston Public Library where he runs a recycled drumming program and directs stage adaptations of young adult literature. He lives in Evanston, IL.

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