In a rehearsal space near Times Square, Ian Shaw was talking about the strange and solemn task of portraying his own father in a Broadway play that he had co-written.

“You spend most of your life running away from the father,” he explained. “Now here I was, running into the jaws of the thing.” He paused, realizing what he’d said. “No pun intended,” he added.

Ian Shaw’s father is Robert Shaw, the celebrated British actor, author and Oscar-nominated star of “A Man For All Seasons,” who went on to play steely villains in “The Sting” and “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” before his death in 1978.

Perhaps his best-known film role is Quint, the seasoned shark hunter of the 1975 blockbuster “Jaws,” whose hardened face hints at a lifetime of harrowing experiences and who delivers a memorable monologue about a shark attack he survived during World War II.

Ian Shaw, when clean-shaven, could almost pass unnoticed; he has a gentle manner and friendly eyes. But on this day in early July, with his grown-out mustache and sideburns, Shaw, 53, was a dead ringer for his father in “Jaws.” This is a deliberate choice for his play, “The Shark Is Broken,” which opens Aug. 10 at the Golden Theater.

The one-act comedy-drama, written with Joseph Nixon, casts Shaw as his father in a fictional depiction of a particularly challenging day during the making of “Jaws” in 1974.

Confined to a small fishing boat called the Orca while the crew contends with an uncooperative mechanical shark, the elder Shaw wrestles with his misgivings about the film, his history of alcoholism and the waning patience of his co-stars Richard Dreyfuss (Alex Brightman) and Roy Scheider (Colin Donnell).

Ian Shaw has worked steadily in theater, TV and film projects while striving not to trade on the renown of his illustrious father. Describing his own career, he said, “It’s modest, but to be at my age and have lived my whole life being an actor is a kind of a triumph.”

Now, after several years of work on the play and a lifetime of reckoning with his father’s legacy, he said he was ready for a project that addressed his lineage head-on.

“You still have to have the conversation about your validity in comparison to your father,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older and more mature, I feel less burdened about that. The final piece of the puzzle to getting rid of the baggage has, peculiarly, been to walk in his shoes.”

Ian Shaw is one of Robert Shaw’s 10 children, and the youngest child he had with his second wife, the actress Mary Ure.

Robert Shaw was a celebrated man of letters, a friend of Harold Pinter (whose play “Old Times” he starred in with Ure) and an accomplished playwright himself. He also made no secret of his heavy drinking, in an era when such habits were fundamental to the machismo of a generation of actors.

Speaking to a reporter who asked him how he kept himself motivated on “Jaws” during long production delays, Robert Shaw responded with a smile: “Well, Scotch, vodka, gin, whatever,” he said.

He was also openly resentful of the film roles that earned him a global fan base (and a lucrative living) but took him away from the stage.

In an interview on “The Dick Cavett Show” in 1971, Shaw said it was no better to be a busy actor than to be out of work: “It’s always paradoxically bad, either way. When you’re working it’s terrible because you’re usually doing rubbish, and when you’re not working it’s worse.”

Despite the rugged reputation that his father cultivated onscreen and off, Ian Shaw said of him, “Privately he was very affectionate and very funny and sort of naughty.”

As he recalled, “One time, a quite dignified guest came to stay with us in Ireland, and he was greeted by the sight of Robert opening the door in his wife’s nightie. He thought that sort of thing was tremendously funny.”

Even so, “there’s a lot of who he was on the screen,” Shaw said. “You wouldn’t want to confront him directly in an argument.”

The actor described boisterous family dinners held at long tables where he would sometimes be clamoring for his father’s attention. “I would be dominating a little bit,” he said. “And he would come over, pick me up and just put me outside the room.”

But the family was struck by tragedies. Ure died from an accidental overdose of alcohol and barbiturates in 1975, and Shaw died of a heart attack three years later.

Ian Shaw, who is now married with two children of his own, was just 8 years old at the time. But, he said, “I felt I had time with him. Up to that point, I didn’t feel shortchanged.”

Guy Masterson, the director of “The Shark Is Broken” and a longtime friend, said Shaw’s family history has presented professional challenges.

When they would kick around ideas for possible collaborations, “Ian came to me and said he didn’t want to do anything with his dad, because he looked like him,” said Masterson, who has known the actor for some 25 years. “Every time he walked into an audition, people would expect Robert Shaw, and he was at a disadvantage.”

At first, the younger Shaw balked at the notion of a biographical play about his father. “I felt like it would be an impossible thing to pull off,” he said.

But over time, and with the encouragement from friends and colleagues like Masterson, he grew more comfortable. As the project germinated, Shaw also noticed the theater becoming more receptive to productions with cinematic origins, such as the plays “The 39 Steps” (adapted from the Hitchcock film) or any number of musicals based on contemporary hit movies.

For research, Shaw read books like “The Jaws Log” by Carl Gottlieb, one of the film’s screenwriters, which chronicled the production’s numerous problems. He also looked at interviews his father gave in this era, trying to channel his unapologetic, forthright voice.

“In a world where those types of interviews weren’t stage-managed, Robert would sometimes say things that were quite shocking,” Ian Shaw said. “It didn’t feel like he was trying to get his next job. He was just trying to speak from the heart.”

He also reviewed a drinking diary that his father kept in the early 1970s, and which one of his sisters later shared with him. “It gave me a baseline about how he felt about his alcoholism,” Ian Shaw said. “He had tried to quit and couldn’t do it. He wanted to concentrate on his writing and it was interfering with that.”

Before the play arrived on Broadway, “The Shark Is Broken” had a brief tryout in Brighton, England, in 2019, and ran later that summer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It also played at the Ambassadors Theater in London’s West End during the 2021-22 season.

In the Times Square studio, the play’s whole set fit into a small portion of the room: a cramped recreation of a bench and table inside the Orca. Shaw said he could imagine himself touring the play around in a van, “taking it to every village hall in England and making some money doing that.”

The sense of claustrophobia is intended to amplify some of the well-documented conflict that took place behind the scenes of “Jaws,” like the on-set friction between Shaw and Dreyfuss: In the show, as in real life, the seasoned Shaw regards Dreyfuss as inexperienced and entitled, while Dreyfuss worries that Shaw’s drinking has gotten out of control.

Within the boat’s confines, fictionalized conversations and monologues show the characters humorously squabbling and wondering if their cinematic efforts will amount to anything. They also explore the characters’ depths, as when Robert Shaw reflects on his own father, who was himself an alcoholic and died by suicide when Shaw was a child.

Donnell, a star of television (“Chicago Med”) and musical theater (“Violet”), said he felt a strong obligation to help Shaw realize his goals for the play.

“There’s almost a sense of duty to fulfill his vision, and to try to breathe as much life as we can into these roles,” he said.

“You’re getting to witness somebody taking a deep dive on some difficult memories,” Donnell said. “I would imagine there is a bit of catharsis in not only having created the piece but getting to embody his father every night. I’m sure there is some dueling going on in his brain.”

Brightman, who recently played the title character in the Broadway musical “Beetlejuice,” said that Shaw’s involvement gave the play permission to be candid in its depiction of the “Jaws” stars.

“Shows like this can be watered down and glorify a person for who they weren’t,” he said. “This play actually goes the other way and shows the three of them without a soft focus at all. I really think that we see three very flawed egomaniacs.”

But the emotional draw, Brightman said, is the space it gives Shaw to connect with his father in real time.

“I don’t know how many people would ever get an opportunity like this, to both honor his dad and show him with the capital-F flaws of a person,” he said.

When he prepares to play his father in “The Shark Is Broken,” Shaw said his rituals include practicing his voice as he puts on his Quint costume. “I believe him to be quite fearless, so when I’m getting into character that’s one of the feelings that I absorb,” he said. “I’m very front-foot and energized, which is quite a liberating feeling.”

But that is a sensation that only lasts about as long as the performance. When it’s over, Shaw said, “I do tend to quite quickly revert to who I am, which is probably a healthy thing. I’m not my father. I’m a different man.”



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