The Shrike (play)

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The Shrike
Mary Bell, Actress as Nurse Wingate,.jpg
Mary Bell as Nurse Wingate
Written byJoseph Kramm
CharactersAnn Downs
Jim Downs
Dr. Schlesinger
Nurse Wingate
Dr. Barrow
Dr. Bellman
Joe Major
Date premieredJanuary 15, 1952
Place premieredCort Theater
New York City, New York
Original languageEnglish
Settinga hospital

The Shrike is a play written by American dramatist Joseph Kramm. The play won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.


The Shrike premiered on Broadway at the Cort Theater, on January 15, 1952, and closed on May 31, 1952 after 161 performances. José Ferrer was the producer, director and star (as "Jim Downs"). The cast featured Judith Evelyn ("Ann Downs"), Somer Alberg ("Dr. Schlesinger"), James Hawthorne Bay ("Perkins"), and Mary Bell ("Miss Wingate").[1][2]

Kramm received the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.[3] Jose Ferrer won the 1952 Tony Award, Actor in a Play and Direction.[1]

The play was revived on Broadway at New York City Center, running from November 25, 1953 to December 6, 1953. Ferrer and Kramm directed and Ferrer and Judith Evelyn starred.[4]


The play is set in the mental ward of a city hospital, and revolves around a theatrical director named Jim Downs, who has been driven to the verge of insanity and suicide by his estranged wife Ann.

To outsiders, Ann seems to epitomize sweetness, kindness and graciousness. In reality, she is a bitter, manipulative shrew. Like the shrike, a small predatory bird that kills and impales its prey, Ann seems harmless but her coercion of Jim incapacitates his free will and traps him under her control.

Ann married Jim in hopes that he would eventually gain wealth and stardom, and so his lack of success galls her. Her mockery and nagging led Jim to an unsuccessful suicide attempt, by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills. The play opens with Jim being admitted to the hospital, where doctors manage to save his life. Upon waking Jim discovers that he is legally trapped in the hospital, since the psychiatrists deem him a threat to himself and others and are unwilling to release him.

Ann regularly visits Jim at the hospital, supposedly to provide comfort and love, but really to continue her hectoring and manipulation of him. She is able to charm the doctors, who usually accede to her wishes and follow her advice as to what is best for Jim.

Jim comes to realize that the only way to secure his freedom is by cooperating with Ann, who has exploited the situation to regain power over her husband. In the end Jim is released into Ann's care, thus moving from one type of prison to another.

Film adaptation[edit]

The play was adapted for a 1955 film starring Jose Ferrer and June Allyson. [5]


  1. ^ a b "'The Shrike' 1952", accessed November 28, 2015
  2. ^ Kramm, Joseph. "Introduction", The Shrike, Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 1980, ISBN 0822210266, p. 3
  3. ^ Fischer, Heinz-D. "1952 Award", Drama / Comedy Awards 1917-1996. Part 4, Volume 12 of Fischer, Heinz-D. The Pulitzer Prize Arechive, Walter de Gruyter, 1998, ISBN 3110955784, p. 143
  4. ^ '"the Shrike' 1953", accessed November 28, 2015
  5. ^ "'The Shrike' Film Overview" New York Times, accessed November 28, 2015

External links[edit]