To call John Patrick Shanley prolific seems like an almost unfair snub to the veracity of his pen. He's written 24 stage plays and 10 films to his name, for which he's earned a pair of Academy awards, the Pulitzer prize, an Emmy, some Tonys and pretty much any other dramatic award that gets given out. And he's still producing work consistently, as though his life depended on it.
That last note might not be total embellishment, either: his works seem unified, not in content or style—ranging from the massively acclaimed, pragmatic Doubt to the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan-driven '90s comedy Joe Versus the Volcano—but by the way they subtly wrestle through some pretty big questions about life behind their drama, as if Shanley was working out his own feelings on life's big-ticket issues by putting pen to paper.
His one-act Savage In Limbo is a matter of faith. Not so much the religious kind of belief, moreso the crises of doubt that befall ordinary people, once they fall into the rhythm of adulthood and realize they're just going through the motions, alone, instead of finding any kind of upward emotional mobility or lasting bond.
"Certainly in this play, he's wrestling with what it means to be alone in the world, and in a sense, on one level all of us are always alone in the world, and yet we have this desperate need to connect with other people. I think he's trying to understand that," explains director Kim McCaw. "I think he's trying to find where we find meaning in general. And, obviously for some people in some ways, religion can provide that and sometimes it doesn't, and I think he examines the points where faith or belief or security and anxiety all collide.
"In this play it's not overt, by any means. There's virtually nothing of overt religion in there. But it is about people who are going, 'I'm 32 years old and I have to change.' It's more about trying to find a belief in themselves, in that case."
The five wayward inhabitants of Savage, all aged 32, have taken up shelter in a seedy Bronx bar for another night of drinking and dreaming on—a virgin hoping to lose that title, a saddened, promiscuous regular, a drunkard of a nun, a boastful macho man and the tough barkeep.
It's a set-up that seems ripe for some hard-life working class drama, but Savage has what McCaw calls a magical sensibility at work. Drinks, he points out, don't so much get poured as they do appear, mixed, iced and ready. The rest of the play possesses a similarly dreamlike state of which Shanley gives no real explanation, though he's quizzically subtitled Savage in Limbo "A Concert Play," which McCaw has developed his own theories to explain.
"I decided what the playwright was suggesting is that this isn't just an ordinary play in which people live in a bar, and eat peanuts and all that," he says. "This is a bit more stylized than that: it really is about the words and about the ideas that are going on, and the problems that these people are trying to express, and the fears that they're wrestling with. And that there's a bit of a presentational quality to it that's not quite naturalistic.
"So we've been exploring that aspect of it; at times people almost deliver sections of the text [like] there's a sensibility of it being a song, or being a duet, or a kind of musical sensibility to it. " V
Thu, Dec 2 – Sat, Dec 11 (7:30 pm)
Thu, Dec 9 (12:30 pm)
Savage in Limbo
Written by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Kim McCaw
Starring Tiffany Ayalik, Matt Brault, Jamie Cavanagh, Nicola Elbro, Samantha Hill
Timms Centre (87 Ave & 112 St)
$10 – $20