04/24/2012 03:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Did Gwyneth Paltrow Steal My Life?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one MOST traveled by... 1991 New Haven, Connecticut. The reputable Longwharf Theater and a production of the classic William Inge's Picnic. I'm cast as one of the leads, Madge. The pretty, small-town girl who falls for a handsome, charismatic drifter.


Hello shining future!

This is my first real acting job. I've worked on a few independent films where I carried props and did my own lighting. I've performed in a very bad production of Twelve Angry Women where I was on stage for two hours, had seven lines and forgot one on the night I'd managed to convince a young William Morris agent to see the production. I literally made eye contact with her from the stage to the front row when I couldn't remember that fucking island of a line in a sea of other actors' dialogue.

But for this job I'll be getting my Equity Card. I'll be flown from L.A. to New Haven where I'll stay for the next several months while I rehearse with seasoned Broadway veterans and a few equally green young actors out of New York and L.A.

It's exciting. I feel like I'm at the beginning of something potentially big. And I've been cast opposite a boy from my L.A. acting class who I've pined for from afar.


Maybe I'll tell that story more fully another day, but for now, this is all about explaining my aversion to La Gwyneth...

We know what her life has been like since her debut in Flesh and Bone circa 1993. She's gone on to win an Academy Award, marry a rockstar, have angelic BABIES, speak fluent CASTILIAN, stay in flawless SHAPE even though she loves to cook and wrote an F-ING COOK BOOK, while moonlighting as a chanteuse on GLEE and ROCKING OUT with Cee Lo Green. (I won't even go into the fact she's known Brad Pitt biblically).

What does this have to do with me? Nothing. Except for the unique, self-involved, insular, narcissistic, human foible of seeing the world only through the prism of my own experience as center of the universe. I do not judge myself. I think this is just called being human. Subservience to the Id and the Ego as opposed to the yogic, Buddhist ONE of all beings. What the hell am I talking about?

To continue, during the first month of rehearsal I'd fallen madly in unrequited love with my leading man. I'd had my first interview for a newspaper as an actress in a legitimate production. I was working with Arvin Brown, one of the best Broadway directors, and I was able to keep two very humble abodes on two coasts. I was. The shit.

Then one evening during previews Arvin came into the dressing room to tell us that we had two "special guests" who would be watching our rehearsal. They were the well-respected actress Blythe Danner and her (then unknown) daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Perhaps you're beginning to get a faint inkling of where this train bound for bitterness is heading.

It turns out that Blythe and Gwyneth are also going to be starring as mother and daughter in the Williamstown production of Picnic where Gwyneth will be portraying Madge. "The pretty one."

I often wonder what Gwyneth might have thought watching me perform her role. It was a thankless role. Lots of simpering, crying and whining, "Mom, what good is it to be pretty?" How do you deliver that line without feeling like a stone-cold fool?

There was also this big breakdown crying jag at the end of act three where Hal says good-bye to Madge and chases that train whistle in the distance. I was very Method-y at the time, which means the tears HAD TO BE REAL. You can't imagine how I worked myself up trying to get those tears to come, thinking about dead possums and old boyfriends' infidelities. I'm sure there were nights the audience thought I'd suffered an aneurysm.

I know how my production went. My leading man went back to his girlfriend, the other actors went back to auditioning and many of them still act today. I went back to Los Angeles where I just never quite got hot and quit pursuing acting four years later.


I never saw the reviews of the Williamsburg Picnic. I suspect it wasn't much better than ours (one critic might have said my performance was "as flat as Kansas" -- perhaps I'm recalling incorrectly). And I doubt Gwyneth's Madge got her any closer to her trajectory than mine got me.

But over the years I've watched her flower into one of our best actresses and everything else she's become. So I am here to admit, the real reason Gwyneth Paltrow Gets My Goat is... she can still wear skinny jeans after giving birth to two children. Her Castilian's better than mine (Que verguenza!). I wish I could sing and she gets free shoes.

But I don't wish I had her life. Because my failure has led me to this life. And while I wish I could be successful in the career of my choice (well, I WAS a fantastic waitress), I wouldn't want to give up my man, my girls, my home. My life.

I will always yearn for more. Maybe that isn't just a Shannon condition, but the human condition. I love my life. Damn me, I really do. Still, couldn't Gwyneth be bad at SOMETHING?