Is the secret that winning the prize, one of the top awards for playwrights in America, is daunting and he worries that he won't have as great a success again?
"It's not daunting," Bronx native Shanley told Playbill.com. "I've been doing this for too long to be daunted. I know that I will fail again, and I am at home with that. It's a lovely and affirming piece of news. I guess I view the Pulitzer Prize as a celebration of the American playwright, and that's a party that I'm happy to attend."
But it must make him just as happy that people are flocking to his mystery-tinged play, about accusations by a nun (played by Cherry Jones) concerning a priest's behavior with a student in a Bronx Catholic school in 1964.
"Yeah," Shanley said, "but you know, I like the name: The Pulitzer Prize. It's just cool, you know? I'd be a dork if I didn't enjoy it on behalf of all the American playwrights. We all work really hard and try to do good work and when one of us is singled out for recognition it's for everybody, in a way, it's a great thing. Certainly, there's a lot of playwrights who would slap me if I didn't enjoy it."
What isn't answered in the Doug Hughes-directed play that began last fall at Manhattan Theatre Club and transferred this spring to the Walter Kerr Theatre (marking the prolific Shanley's Broadway debut) is whether or not the priest of the play, Father Flynn (played by Brían F. O'Byrne), is guilty of wrongdoing. And that's where Shanley's new secret is rooted. "I think the last act of the play takes place in the audience, after they leave and they go out and have drinks or dinner," Shanley said. "That's one of the things I look for from theatre. I have an email address in the Playbill, so I hear from a lot of people and there are a lot of different answers."
And the secret? It had been reported previously that Shanley told actor O'Byrne what really happened in the off-stage scenario between priest and student.
"That is correct: Doug Hughes and Brían," Shanley confirmed. "I talked to Doug about it first and then we decided to talk to Brían and tell him, but not the ladies. So we created an atmosphere of doubt in the rehearsal room."
And then Shanley drops a little bombshell, followed by a healthy laugh that echoes like antic aftershock. "What I didn't tell Doug was that I was lying to him," Shanley said. "Brían has said he won't tell the women until the closing night, and that's when I'm telling him — or he'll read it in the paper — 'But I was lyin' to you, Brían!'"
Should we doubt whether Shanley has decided what really happened? "Oh, no, no — I know," Shanley said. "Yes, absolutely. My explanation would take 15 minutes. The writer needs to know but no one else needs to know."