Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Somerville Playwright John Shea Gets “Comp” play.

Somerville Playwright John Shea Gets “Comp” play.

By Doug Holder

Playwright John Shea doesn’t get his inspiration by writing about some exotic locale, or from tales of international intrigue, but from the streets of Magoun Square right here in Somerville. In fact Shea told me during our early morning interview at the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square that all his plays are set in the “Ville. Shea’s latest work will be staged at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre at Boston University, Nov. 1 through Nov. 18. The play “Comp” concerns two Somerville brothers’ conflict around a serious work related injury. With a background of a perfectionist dyed-in-the-wool Catholic mother, and the eternal suffering of an ever-present plastic Jesus, the play flames a hellfire of drama.

Shea is a Somerville native and resident whose work has been included in the National Playwrights’ Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, as well as the Huntington Theatre’s “Breaking Ground Festival of New Plays.” Shea’s work also has graced many festivals around the country, including four appearances in the “Boston Theatre Marathon.” He is a graduate of the Boston Playwrights Theatre MA program in playwriting at Boston University.

Shea, a tall man, with gray-speckled hair, told me he grew up in the 70’s in the Magoun Square section of the city. It was, and still is to a degree, a neighborhood of working class families, two family houses, and strong religious values. But it was also plagued by drugs, crimes, and dead ends.

In Shea’s family education was not highly valued. He was allowed to drop out of high school as long as he got a job. His father, who worked at Revere Sugar, gave him a strong work ethic, if not an educational ethic. But eventually Shea got his GED, graduated Lesley College, and went on to teach school in Cambridge.

Shea, who now is a “house husband”, tells his kids that Somerville is “the best place in the world to live.” Specifically Shea said he loves the diversity of the city, and all the cultural activities it offers, not to mention its accessibility to Boston and Cambridge.

Shea, who has been most influenced by the playwright Eugene O’Neill, and his signature play” Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” said that the plot of his play “Comp” concerns two brothers, one of whom was paralyzed by an accident on the job. The other brother, who was scheduled to work that fateful shift, was too drunk to show up at the workplace, so his unlucky brother covered for him. Life, as we all know, has a habit of throwing us curves, and in this case one brother is saved and the other cursed. The conflict has a backdrop of a no- nonsense Catholic mom, and the stifling confines of the familial home.

Shea said his plays, like his hero O’Neill, center around family dramas, their conflicts, and hopefully their resolutions. Shea feels that Somerville is a regional stage for a drama that plays out on the large universal stage that we call life.

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Doug Holder is the arts/editor for The Somerville News and the cofounder of The Somerville News Writers Festival

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