Pulitzer, Oscar winner John Patrick Shanley's work takes centre stage for Master Playwright Festival

ShanleyFest, the 2018 edition of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's Master Playwright Festival, runs at venues around Winnipeg from Jan. 30 to Feb. 18.

Playwright best known for Pulitzer winner Doubt, Oscar winner Moonstruck focus of annual festival

Pulitzer Prize and Oscar winner John Patrick Shanley is best known for his play Doubt and the screenplay for Moonstruck. (Seth Wenig/Reuters)

He's picked up a Tony Award, an Oscar and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

And over the next couple of weeks, Winnipeg theatre-goers will have a chance to immerse themselves in the work of celebrated American playwright and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, the focus of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's 19th Master Playwright Festival — an annual festival focused on exploring the work of a significant dramatist.

Shanley may actually be better known for his screen work than his playwriting — he picked up an Academy Award for his screenplay for 1987's Moonstruck and was nominated for another for his adaptation of his play Doubt. (He also, mind you, wrote the screenplay for the much-reviled 1995 flick Congo, proving that even great writers have off days.)

As for stage, he's certainly best known for his 2004 play Doubt — a gripping play about sexual abuse in a Catholic school, for which he won both a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. (The play will be presented at the festival in a short run by Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre.)

This year, the festival will feature 11 full productions (including Royal MTC's production of a more recent Shanley play, Outside Mullingar), two one-night-only staged readings and three film screenings.

Here are a few of the most promising offerings at ShanleyFest:

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (Jan. 31-Feb. 17): Local theatre vet Sharon Bajer directs two local talents, RobYn Slade and Darren Martens, in one of Shanley's early breakout plays. Set in the Bronx — where Shanley grew up — this dark romance touches on themes of violence and sexual abuse. Not for the faint of heart, but the talent behind this production makes it worth checking out.

Darren Martens and RobYn Slade in the Keep Theatre's production of Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, part of ShanleyFest. (The Keep Theatre)

Welcome to the Moon and Other Plays (Feb. 1-6): Shanley isn't all grim explorations of heavy themes. Local community theatre group Shoestring Players, who've done some fine productions at previous festivals, take on eight short comedic Shanley plays, including some early Shanley works and some more recent. It should be a good way to get an overview of Shanley — and some comic relief.

Savage in Limbo (Feb. 4-15): Another early Shanley play, this 1984 dark comedy follows three 30-something women who went to parochial school together and meet in a Bronx bar, where they find out whether they can escape the "limbo" of their lives. An excellent cast makes this one well worth adding to your ShanleyFest list, but grab tickets early — it's a site-specific production in the cozy confines of Fools + Horses coffee shop on Broadway.

Vault Theatre will perform Shanley's Savage in Limbo at Fools + Horses Coffee as part of the festival. (Leif Norman/Vault Theatre)

Free movie screenings (Feb. 5, 10 and 12): Shanley's probably better known for his screenplays than his stage work, so you might want to take in a flick during ShanleyFest. The Winnipeg Public Library will offer free screenings of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romantic comedy Joe Versus the Volcano (Feb. 5) and Doubt, the film version of Shanley's best-known play (Feb. 12). And at Dalnavert Museum, you can check out a pay-what-you can screening of Shanley's Oscar winner Moonstruck on Feb. 10.

ShanleyFest begins with a free opening night introductory lecture at The Good Will Social Club, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. The festival continues at venues around the city until Feb. 18.