His "Moonstruck" screenplay won an Oscar. His plays—including "Four Dogs and a Bone," "The Big Funk," "Savage in Limbo," "Italian-American Reconciliation," "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," and "Sailor's Song"—have run at such Off-Broadway venues as the Lucille Lortel Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and Second Stage. Yet until March 31, when "Doubt" opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre in a commercial transfer from Manhattan Theatre Club, playwright John Patrick Shanley had never had a play on Broadway. Four days later came another first: Shanley, 55, had won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in drama.
Shanley's win, which was widely expected in the industry, also means that "Doubt" is doubtless the front-runner for the Tony Award for best play. Three of the last four Pulitzer Prize–winning plays—"I Am My Own Wife," "Topdog/Underdog," and "Proof"—have managed this feat.
"Doubt" is also one of the few one-act works to capture the Pulitzer. Previous examples include the aforementioned "I Am My Own Wife," Marsha Norman's " 'night, Mother," and the musical "A Chorus Line." The award includes a prize of $10,000 and celebrates "a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life."
Set in 1964, "Doubt" focuses on the autocratic Sister Aloysius (played by Tony winner Cherry Jones), who rules over the Bronx's St. Nicholas Church School with an iron fist and a commitment to conservative values following Pope John XXIII's controversial Second Vatican Council. When Sister James (Heather Goldenhersh), a young, well-meaning but naïve nun, floats the possibility that a popular priest, Father Flynn (Tony winner Brían F. O'Byrne), is engaging in pedophilic behavior with the school's first and only student of color, Sister Aloysius' dogged pursuit of the truth (or the truth as she sees it) is unstinting and unnerving. Equally dramatic is Shanley's deftly meticulous approach: The question of whether Father Flynn acted inappropriately is left as implied as the answer is unclear.