Martin Sherman

Martin Sherman
For the actor also credited as Martin T. Sherman, see Martin Sherman (actor)
Martin Sherman
Born December 22, 1938(1938-12-22)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Occupation Playwright, Screenwriter
Language English
Nationality American
Alma mater Boston University, BA, MFA (1956-1960)
Period Late 20th Century
Notable work(s) Bent
The Boy from Oz
Notable award(s) Playwrights Horizons
Playwright-in-residence (1976-77)
Dramatists Guild
Hull-Warriner Award (1980)
Pulitzer Prize nomination:
Bent (1980)
Tony Award nominations:
Bent (1980)
The Boy from Oz (2003)
Laurence Olivier Award nomination:
Rose (2000)

Martin Sherman (born December 22, 1938) is an American dramatist and screenwriter, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Bent (1979), which explores the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust. Sherman is an openly gay Jew and has lived and worked in London since 1980.


Life and career

Sherman was an only child, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Russian immigrants Joseph T. Sherman, an attorney, Julia Sherman (née Shapiro). Growing up in Camden, New Jersey, he was first introduced to the theater came at age six when he saw pre-Broadway version of Guys and Dolls (1950) starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.[1] Sheridan's parents emcouraged his passion. In an interview with London Times writer Sheridan Morley in 1983, Sherman recalled, "At 12 I joined the Mae Desmond Children's Players and went all around Pennsylvania being a tall dwarf in Snow White."[2] As a young teen, Sherman despised school, but consoled himself by often taking the bus into Philadelphia to see plays. He also traveled to New York City once a year to visit an aunt who shared his love of theater. "I was the only kid in junior high school to have seen Camino Real," he told interviewer Matt Wolf.[3]

In 1956 Sherman enrolled at Boston University College of Fine Arts, where he earned both a B.A. and an M.F.A. in dramatic arts. Upon graduating in 1960, he moved to New York City where he joined the Actors Studio to study under the legendary director Harold Clurman. Though he would soon abandon his acting career to pursue writing full time, Sherman credits this experience with shaping his technique as a playwright, explaining "all my plays are written for actors rather than the directors or critics that my contemporaries seem to write for."[4] After spending several years in New York, Sherman was appointed playwright in residence at Mills College in Oakland, California, where his rock musical, A Solitary Thing, premiered in 1963.

Poster for the Royal National Theatre's 1990 revival of Bent.

Sherman returned to New York City in the mid-1960s where he premiered Fat Tuesday (1966), Next Year in Jerusalem (1968), and The Night Before Paris (1969). Things Went Badly in Westphalia, — which takes its name from a line in Candide by Voltaire — was next, and became Sherman's first published play when the dramatic rock musical was included in The Best Short Plays of 1970.[5] In the 1970s, Sherman traveled to London where he worked with the founding members of the infamous Gay Sweatshop.

After more than a decade of writing plays, Sherman found widespread fame in 1979 with his first blockbuster hit, Bent. First produced in London's West End starring Ian McKellen, the chilling plays tells the story of Max, a gay man in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. After Max and his boyfriend are forced to flee the city following the Night of the Long Knives, the two live in hiding for two years before being captured by the gestapo and sent to a concentration camp. The play was considered extremely controversial, both for its violence and its assertion that homosexuals received worse treatment than Jews during the Holocaust. Despite the uproar, Bent transferred to Broadway, where it became an instant hit and was nominated for a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Following the success of this production, Sherman claimed to have gotten everything he wanted from New York City and promptly moved to London, where he has lived since 1980.[6]

Despite his status as an expatriot, Sherman continued to write successfully for both the British and the American stage. His most recent success came from his re-write of the book for the musical The Boy from Oz, based on Peter Allen's life and career, earning him a second Tony nomination. He has also written two collections of plays dealing with gay themes, and found success in the genre of one-woman plays with Rose, which was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play when it premiered in London in 2000. Later that year, the show transferred to Broadway where it starred Olympia Dukakis.[7]

Sherman also found success as a screenwriter in the 1990s. His most successful film was adapted from his own play, Alive and Kicking, known in the UK as Indian Summer. He also adapted Bent for the big screen in 1997. The movie was directed by Sean Mathias and starred Clive Owen in the role of Max.


Theatre Productions

  • A Solitary Thing, with music by Stanley Silverman, Oakland, California, Mills College, 9 September 1963.
  • Fat Tuesday, New York, Herbert Berghof Playwrights Foundation, 1966.
  • Next Year in Jerusalem, New York, Herbert Berghof Playwrights Foundation, 8 June 1968.
  • Change, (libretto), New York, BMI Music Theatre Workshop, 1969.
  • The Night Before Paris, New York, Actors Studio, 1969; Edinburgh, Traverse Theatre, 1970.
  • Things Went Badly in Westphalia, Storrs, University of Connecticut, 1971.
  • Passing By, New York, Playwrights Horizons, 5 March 1974; London, Almost Free Theatre, 9 June 1975.
  • New York! New York!, contributor, New York, Playwrights Horizons, 26 April 1975.
  • Cracks, Waterford, CT, National Playwrights Conference, Eugene O'Neill Theate Center, 31 July 1975; Oldham, Coliseum Theatre, 10 October 1981.
  • Rio Grande, New York, Playwrights Horizons, 11 November 1976.
  • Blackout, New York, Ensemble Studio Theatre, 1978.
  • Bent Waterford, CT, National Playwrights Conference, Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, 4 August 1978; London, Royal Court Theatre, 3 May 1979; New York, New Amsterdam Theatre, 2 December 1979.
  • Messiah, London, Hampstead Theatre, 9 December 1982; New York, Manhattan Theatre Club, 11 December 1984.
  • When She Danced, Guildford, UK, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, 27 November 1985; New York, Playwrights Horizon, 19 February 1990.
  • A Madhouse in Goa, London, Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, 28 April 1989; New York, Second Stage, 18 November 1997—comprises A Tale for a King and Keeps Rainin' All the Time.
  • Some Sunny Day, London, Hampstead Theatre, 11 April 1996.
  • Rose, London, Royal National Theatre, 24 June 1999.
  • A Passage to India (adapted from the novel by E.M. Forster), Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, NY, 2004.
  • Aristo (2008)
  • Onassis (2010)



  • Don't Call Me Mama Anymore, CBS, 1972
  • The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (adapted from the novel by Tennessee Williams), Showtime Networks, 2003

Acting roles

  • Indian Summer (1996)


  • Bent, S. French, 1979
  • Messiah, Amber Lane, 1982
  • Cracks, S. French, 1986
  • When She Danced, Amber Lane, 1988; S. French, 1988
  • A Madhouse in Goa, Amber Lane, 1989; S. French, 1998
  • Some Sunny Day, Amber Lane, 1996
  • Rose, Methuen, 1999
  • "Things Went Badly in Westphalia," in The Best Short Plays of 1970, 1970
  • "Passing By," in Gay Plays, Volume 1, 1984


  1. ^ Boles, William C. (2000). Christopher J. Wheatley. ed. "Martin Sherman." Twentieth-Century American Dramatists: Second Series. Detroit: Gale Group. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  2. ^ Morley, Sheridan (11 February 1983). "The Gift of Big Writing". Times: 10. 
  3. ^ Wolf, Matt (17 November 1997). "Martin Sherman". New York 30 (44): 60–61. 
  4. ^ Morley, Sheridan. The Gift of Big Writing. pp. 10. 
  5. ^ Boles, William C. "Martin Sherman.". 
  6. ^ ""Martin Sherman." Contemporary Authors Online". Literature Resource Center. Detroit: Gale. 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  7. ^ Boles, William C. "Martin Sherman.". 

External links

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