The Personal and the Political: Playwright Christopher Shinn

Rebecca Brooksher and Pablo Schreiber in the American premiere of Dying City at Lincoln Center Theater.

Over the past fifteen years, playwright Christopher Shinn built an international reputation through his plays’ fierce social engagement, deep psychological acuity, and formal innovation. When Now or Later premiered in 2008, The Times of London wrote that the play’s “brilliance lies in the way Shinn marries ideological debate to psychological complexity, shedding light, laser-bright and precise, on the way in which political discourse informs and shapes individual experience.”

Shinn grew up in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and now makes his home in New York. His early work was particularly well known on British stages. Shinn was fresh out of school at NYU when he sent his play Four to the Royal Court, a London theatre with an international reputation for new plays. Four, which parallels two teenagers’ lives on the fourth of July, premiered at the theatre within five months, where he also staged the premieres of Other People, Where do we live, Dying City, and Now or Later. In America, director Michael Wilson is an important collaborator. While artistic director at Hartford Stage, Wilson invited Shinn to be playwright-in-residence, the beginning of a ten-year artistic partnership. Wilson directed the premieres of What Didn’t Happen at Playwrights Horizons and Picked at the Vineyard Theatre, both in New York.

Shinn’s work is boldly political – Dying City looked at the psychological scars of the Iraq war and all his plays confront issues of class. But Now or Later finds the playwright turning his focus to the power brokers who make up our political system. “I’m particularly interested in narcissism and powerful people. In ancient Greece and in Shakespeare’s time, they were writing about kings and queens, but in our time we focus on regular, middle-class and working-class people,” Shinn says in an interview with British Magazine WWD. "I thought, 'Let me pretend I'm an ancient Greek playwright and write about tthe powerful people who lead the world.'"

-Charles Haugland

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