by W.D. King
Temple University Press, 1997
Cloth: 978-1-56639-517-5
Library of Congress Classification PS3569.H387Z74 1997
Dewey Decimal Classification 812.54

Wallace Shawn usually appears in our mind's eye as the consummate eccentric actor: the shy literature teacher in Clueless; the diabolically rational villain in The Princess Bride; or as the eponymous protagonist of Vanya on 42nd Street. Few of us realize, however, that Shawn is also one of today's most provocative and political playwrights.

Writing Wrongs: The Work of Wallace Shawn is a close and personal look into the life and literary work of the man whom Joseph Papp called "a dangerous writer." As the son of the late William Shawn, renowned editor of The New Yorker, Wallace Shawn was born into privilege and trained to thoroughly liberal values, but his plays relentlessly question the liberal faith in individualism and common decency. In an uncompromising way that is all his own, Shawn registers the shock of the new.

In works such as Aunt Dan and Lemon, My Dinner with Andre, and The Designated Mourner, he wrenches out of place all of the usual, comfortable mechanisms by which we operate as audiences. Perhaps our discomfort and struggle to understand a play might provoke some change in the way we see ourselves and behave in relation to others -- but Shawn offers little in the way of solace.

W.D. King's incisive critiques of the plays and inquiry into the life and times of their author develop a portrait of Shawn as a major figure in contemporary theater.