The entire backstory for this show can be summed up like this: I got the story wrong.
That's how it started. I saw a headline that read Lottery winner gunned down by police. And I thought, wow...what a shitty way to go. You win the lottery and before you can enjoy it, you're gone. That got me thinking. And what I was thinking was that if it were me, I'd be just a little more than pissed off. It would be time to have a talk with God.
A few incongruities here. First, as I said, I had the story wrong. The lottery winner in question had won five years prior. Just happened to be out and did something that made police shoot him. Second, I'm not a particularly religious man--which actually turned out to be a central point of the play, which is asking: Why do we blame God for things that happen to us if we don't believe in him enough to credit him with the good?
One of the reasons I went this route is because I understood it. I've been that person. I have complained, when life got rough, that God hated me. In those words. God hates me. And why wouldn't he? We didn't really talk and I'd stopped going over to His house in my teens.
Grievance developed to become a story about taking responsibility for your life, whatever comes your way. Of accepting your own role in whatever happens. Not from a fatalistic standpoint but from a free will standpoint. God doesn't interfere, I suggest. He admits creating everything, but then he stepped back to let it run its course. Dennis eventually needs to stash his anger and understand who's responsible. There's also a bit of a message about connectedness in Grievance--that one motion starts another which starts another, like a series of switches being thrown on railroad tracks, guiding the train to its end destination. Which, of course, in this piece is death.
Grievance was the first straigthforward drama I'd written. Relatively straighforward. There's a laugh line or two along the way, of course. I never felt like I was writing out of character. I don't consider myself a comic playwright. I consider myself a writer, and I follow the ideas that come, comedy or drama. Personally, I think this play is rock-solid Shanahan, not some attempt by the funny guy to write above his station.
This show premiered at a festival put on by the New England Academy of Theatre. Unbeknownst to me, the director decided to do it having God done as a voiceover. On the upside, he got a well-known Connecticut morning radio guy to do the voice. On the downside, making this choice meant he just didn't get it. The play revolves around humanizing God, not keeping him as the big floaty head. It's God as father figure, guiding his child. Not the Great and Powerful Oz.
On the other hand, the first actor to play Dennis, Anthony LaPenta, was phenomenal. New to acting, he brought the audience to tears. And that includes me. So the premiere was a semi-success. The second production was a mess, so I won't go into it here.
Then the play sat until 2007, when I put it up at a Medway Players night of one-acts. I reeled in the very talented Bill Houldcroft on eleven days' notice to play Dennnis and I took the big chair for myself. It was a pleasure to work opposite an actor of Bill's calibre and to know that I could pull off a serious role like God as well. This is another show that is unfortunately languishing on my hard drive; I've been hard pressed to get groups interested in it. But I've seen its impact, and I know it's a knockout.
Even if I got it wrong in the beginning.
I had an audience member from the Medway show ask if I could send her a script to forward to her son, who was in Divinity school at the time. He apparently was interested in exactly the same subject--that sort of bad-times foxhole religion.
I've been asked twice now for permission to turn this into a short film. Still waiting on the right offer from the right people, but I have to say that I agree that it would make a helluva film.