The Designated Mourner

The Designated Mourner

by Wallace Shawn

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“The play nicely combines Pinterian menace with caustic political commentary.” –Time

“Acerbic, elusive, poetic and chilling, the writing is demanding in a rarefied manner. Its implications are both affecting and disturbing.” –Los Angeles Times

“In his exquisitely written dramatic lament for the decline of


“The play nicely combines Pinterian menace with caustic political commentary.” –Time

“Acerbic, elusive, poetic and chilling, the writing is demanding in a rarefied manner. Its implications are both affecting and disturbing.” –Los Angeles Times

“In his exquisitely written dramatic lament for the decline of high culture. . . . [Shawn] offers a definition of the self that should rattle the defenses of intellectual snobs everywhere.” –The New York Times

Writer and performer Wallace Shawn’s landmark 1996 play features three characters—a respected poet, his daughter, and her English-professor husband—suspected of subversion in a world where culture has come under the control of the ruling oligarchy. Told through three interwoven monologues, the Orwellian political story is recounted alongside the visceral dissolution of a marriage. The play debuted at the Royal National Theatre in London, in a production directed by David Hare, who also directed the film version, starring Mike Nichols and Miranda Richardson. The play’s subsequent New York premiere was staged in a long-abandoned men’s club in lower Manhattan, directed by Shawn’s longtime collaborator André Gregory.

Wallace Shawn is the author of Our Late Night (OBIE Award for Best Play), Marie and Bruce, Aunt Dan and Lemon, The Fever, and the screenplay for My Dinner with André. His most recent play, Grasses of a Thousand Colors, premiered last year in London.

Editorial Reviews

The Times (London)
THE DESIGNATED MOURNER] is highly unconventional, much concerned with matters of politics, culture, and human significance...There is quality in Shawn's writing—imaginative verve, quiet intensity, a sort of Puritan sensitivity or a blend of them all—that reduces objections to a quibble...This is a playwright who does not just tell you what it is like to be arrested at night by goons or to fall morally apart and become an aimless yet weirdly contented ghost yourself. He has the originality to make you feel it.
Time Out
Strange names and even stranger play, but one which worms its way into the consciousness long after the performance is over...unsettling, ominous...the fastidiousness of the language and the detached tone in which horrific events are recounted exert a hypnotic power.
A fascinating play with beautiful passages of writing...
Rob Spillman

The balding, rubber-faced Wally Shawn is best known in the U.S. for comic supporting roles in such movies as Clueless and The Princess Bride. Arthouse movie fans know him for having co-written and starred in the cult hit My Dinner with Andre. But to serious theater junkies around the world, Shawn is considered one of the most creative and confrontational American playwrights of our time. Unfortunately, Shawn's home country is too busy staging anything by England's worst export ù Andrew Lloyd Weber ù so Shawn had his latest play produced in London with Mike Nichols and Miranda Richardson. Luckily for those of us stuck here, the play's raw, stripped-down format (no set, no movement, just three characters speaking at the audience) translates extremely well to the page.

A dystopian fable set in the vague future, the main character, a grating, infuriating man named Jack, recounts how everyone who read John Donne was executed, including the play's other two characters, Jack's wife, Judy, and her father, Howard. Jack married into the intellectual elite, but was never comfortable with being "a highbrow." Through the course of the play he tells the audience how he came to unburden himself of all intellectual pursuits, how he learned to love the immediate world made up of celebrity magazines and empty sex. The routine round-up of intellectuals ù who were blamed for inciting the poor to rebel ù is chillingly recalled. By the end Jack is the only one left who knew any of them, hence the title ù which refers to the ancient tribal custom where one person was selected to mourn for the rest of the clan. "I thought I heard John Donne crying into a handkerchief as he fell through the floor ù plummeting fast through the earth on his way to Hell. His name, once said by so many to be 'immortal,' would not be remembered, it turned out. The rememberers were gone, except for me, and I was forgetting; forgetting his name, forgetting him, and forgetting all the ones who remembered him."

Shawn has created a sort of neo-Fahrenheit 451, a mundanely cruel and empty world that is terrifyingly plausible. It is a crime that so few Americans will see this provocative play, but if there is any justice, this scintillating book version will be read and remembered. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Wallace Shawn (A Modest Proposal), known to some as that guy in Clueless, has written a new play called The Designated Mourner. With only three characters and a number of intimate monologues, the play stands up very well as a text. The narrator, Jack, who has married into an elite literary coterie, survives an uprising of the underprivileged that has extinguished his highbrow, literary community, and he finds that he is the only remaining witness.

Product Details

Theatre Communications Group
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5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.30(d)

Meet the Author

Wallace Shawn is the author of "Our Late Night" (OBIE Award Best Play) "Marie and Bruce", "Aunt Dan and Lemon", "The Designated Mourner", "The Fever", among other plays, and the screenplay for "My Dinner with André". He has translated and adapted "The Threepenny Opera", "The Master Builder" and "The Mandrake".

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