Bruce Norris (playwright)

Bruce Norris (born May 16, 1960) is an American actor and playwright associated with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago. His play Clybourne Park won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Bruce Norris
Born (1960-05-16) May 16, 1960
United States
OccupationPlaywright, actor


After graduating from Northwestern University in 1982 with a degree in theatre, Norris set out to become an actor. He performed at Victory Gardens Theater, the Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre and on Broadway. His Broadway acting credits include David Hirson's Wrong Mountain (January to February 2000), Wendy Wasserstein's An American Daughter (April to June 1997), and Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues (March 1985 to June 1986).[1][2]

During this time he was also "hired and fired from a number of television pilots." These rejections led to writing his first play, The Actor Retires, produced in a late-night venue in Chicago in 1991 and then as a radio play for later broadcast by WFMT-FM as part of the Guest Quarters Hotel's series Chicago Theatres on the Air in 1992.[3][4]

The Steppenwolf Theatre has produced the last seven of Norris' plays.[5]

Purple Heart was produced at the Steppenwolf Theatre from July 5, 2002 to August 25, 2002, with direction by Anna D. Shapiro and featuring Laurie Metcalf and Rosemary Prinz. The play relates the story of a Vietnam War widow and was commissioned by Steppenwolf.[6]

We All Went Down to Amsterdam was produced at the Steppenwolf Theatre from June 12, 2003 to July 13, 2003, directed by Amy Morton.[7]

The Pain and the Itch was produced at Steppenwolf Theatre from June 30 to August 28, 2005, directed by Anna D. Shapiro, with the cast that featured Jayne Houdyshell, Tracy Letts and Kate Arrington.[8] It then was produced Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons from September 21, 2006 to October 15, 2006, directed by Shapiro, and at the Royal Court Theatre, London in June to July 2007. The Guardian (London) reviewer called the play " satire, in the style of Jules Feiffer, ... very funny."[9] The play takes place at Thanksgiving at an upper-middle-class family's home. This was the fourth play by Norris that Steppenwolf had produced.[8]

The Unmentionables ran at Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre from June 29 to August 27, 2006, directed by Anna D. Shapiro. The play takes place in Africa.[10] The play was produced at Yale Repertory Theater in May 2007, also directed by Shapiro. Charles Isherwood, in his review in The New York Times, called it an "acidic satire of bourgeois venality and hypocrisy."[11]

A Parallelogram was produced at Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre from July 1 through August 29, 2010, directed by Anna D. Shapiro. The cast featured Marylouise Burke, Tim Bickel, Kate Arrington and Tom Irwin.[12] In an article for Steppenwolf, Marti Lyons writes about the theme of the play: "what do we do after we know the truth about ourselves? If we rid ourselves of all self-deception, how well can we function in the world? Is some self-protective illusion useful?"[13] A Parallelogram opened Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre's Tony Kiser Theatre on August 2, 2017. Directed by Michael Grief, the cast features Celia Keenan-Bolger, Anita Gillette, Stephen Kunken and Juan Castano. [14]

Domesticated had its world premiere Off-Broadway at the Lincoln Center Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, running from October 10, 2013 (previews) to January 5, 2014. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro, the cast starred Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum.[15] The play was commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater, and involves a political couple following a public embarrassment.[16]

His play The Qualms premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, running from May 22 to July 12, 2015. Directed by Pam MacKinnon, the cast featured Donna Lynne Champlin, Noah Emmerich and Kate Arrington.[17] The play was initially produced at Steppenwolf Theater in July and August 2014, also directed by MacKinnon.[18]

The Low Road premiered Off-Broadway at the Public Theater on February 13, 2018. Directed by Michael Grief, it featured Tessa Albertson, Max Baker, Kevin Chamberlin, Daniel Davis, Crystal A. Dickinson, Gopal Divan, Harriet Harris, Jack Hatcher, Chukwudi Iwuji, Johnny Newcomb, Chris Perfetti, Susannah Perkins, Richard Poe, Dave Quay, Aaron Ray, Joseph Soeder, and Danny Wolohan.[19]

Clybourne Park

On April 18, 2011, Norris was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Clybourne Park. The Prize committee citation described the play as "a powerful work whose memorable characters speak in witty and perceptive ways to America's sometimes toxic struggle with race and class consciousness."[20] Prior to its Pulitzer award, the play won the Olivier Prize for "Best New Play", after being produced at the Royal Court Theatre in London in August 2010.[21]

The play premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons on February 21, 2010 and on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre on April 19, 2012, and won the Tony Award for Best Play[2] following its Pulitzer win. Directed by Pam MacKinnon, the cast featured Frank Wood, Annie Parisse, Jeremy Shamos, Crystal A. Dickinson, Brendan Griffin, Damon Gupton and Christina Kirk.

It is one of two plays to win the Pulitzer, Tony, and Olivier, the other being David Mamet's drama Glengarry Glen Ross.


Norris' verbally dexterous and fast-paced dramas are reminiscent of Edward Albee's comically tragic plays, which contemplate the complexities of the American psyche and the family dynamic.


  • The Actor Retires (1992)
  • The Vanishing Twin (Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago, 1996)[22][23]
  • The Infidel (2002)
  • Purple Heart (2002)
  • We All Went Down to Amsterdam (2003)
  • The Pain and the Itch (Steppenwolf, 2005) (Playwrights Horizons, 2006)[24]
  • The Unmentionables (2006)
  • Clybourne Park (2010)
  • A Parallelogram (2010)[25]
  • The Low Road (2013)
  • Domesticated (2013)
  • The Qualms (2014)
  • Downstate (Steppenwolf, 2018)[26]



  1. "Bruce Norris Broadway" Internet Broadway Database, accessed August 31, 2015
  2. "Bruce Norris Broadway Credits and Awards", accessed August 31, 2015
  3. Smith, Sid. "`Actor Retires` Unfolds As An Uproarious Radio Play" Chicago Tribune, July 1, 1992
  4. Bordelon, Margot. "Bruce Norris at Steppenwolf" Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine, 2004-2005, Volume 5, accessed June 20, 2009
  5. "Productions" Archived 2008-05-17 at the Wayback Machine, Accessed June 20, 2009.
  6. "Purple Heart Listing" Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine, accessed August 31, 2015
  7. "We All Went Down to Amsterdam Listing" Archived 2015-09-12 at the Wayback Machine, accessed August 31, 2015
  8. Lavey, Martha. " The Pain and the Itch, Artistic Director Martha Lavey's Preview" Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine, 2004-2004, Volume 5
  9. Billington, Michael. "Theatre. The Pain and the Itch" The Guardian, June 22, 2007
  10. The Unmentionables Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine, accessed August 31, 2015
  11. Isherwood, Charles. "The Rich and Faithful in Africa. Discuss.", The New York Times, May 22, 2007
  12. "A Parallelogram Listing", accessed August 31, 2015
  13. Lyons, Marti. "Uncovering Illusion in the Work of Bruce Norris" Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine, 2009-2010, Volume 5
  14. McBride, Walter. "Photo Coverage: The Company of 'A Parallelogram' Celebrates Opening Night!", August 3, 2017
  15. Staff. "The Verdict: Critics Review Domesticated, Starring Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum Off-Broadway" Playbill, November 5, 2013
  16. Hetrick, Adam. "Bruce Norris' 'Domesticated', Starring Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum, Opens Off-Broadway Nov. 4" Playbill, November 4, 2013
  17. The Qualms, accessed August 31, 2015
  18. Jones, Kenneth. "Pam MacKinnon and Bruce Norris Will Reunite for 'The Qualms'; Steppenwolf Season Announced" Playbill, March 6, 2013
  20. "2011 Pulitzer Prizes for Letters, Drama and Music". The New York Times. 19 April 2011. Retrieved April 19, 2011.
  21. Ray Bennett (13 March 2011). "Olivier Awards 2011: 'Legally Blonde,' Stephen Sondheim Dominate". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  22. "The Vanishing Twin Listing", accessed August 31, 2015
  23. Smith, Sid. "Putting A Spin On `Twin'" Chicago Tribune, November 8, 1996
  24. The Pain and the Itch Archived 2014-11-22 at the Wayback Machine, accessed August 31, 2015
  25. "Posey Stars", 2009
  26. Jones, Chris. "Bruce Norris specializes in tough questions. Now visit the sex offenders in 'Downstate'" Chicago Tribune, September 30, 2018
  27. Taylor, Kate. "Ten Writers Receive Whiting Awards" New York Sun, October 26, 2006
  28. Gans, Andrew. "Norris, McCraney and Adjmi Win Steinberg Playwright Awards" Playbill, September 17, 2009
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