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The Public Theater Presents "Illyria"
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The Public Theater Presents "Illyria"

- Backstage with the Playwrights

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The Public Theater
Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director
Patrick Willingham, Executive Director


Written and Directed by Richard Nelson

The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
NY, NY 10003

Rosie Benton, Will Brill, Kristen Connolly, Blake Delong
Emma Duncan, Naian González Norvind, Fran Kranz
John Magaro, John Sanders, Max Woertendyke

Scenic Design: Susan Hilferty & Jason Ardizzone-West
Lighting Design: Jennifer Tipton
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Sound Design: Scott Lehrer
Production Stage Manager: Theresa Flanigan
Director, Producing/Artistic Planning: Maria Manuela Goyanes
Casting: Jonathan Thaler & Heidi Griffiths
Director of Communications: Candi Adams
Sr. Director of Marketing: Tom McCann
General Manager: Jeremy Adams
Production Exec.: Ruth E. Sternberg

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 17, 2017 Matinee

I had very much looked forward to seeing Richard Nelson’s new play about Joseph Papp’s early days as Founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park. Unfortunately, although I was seated mid-orchestra, the sound system was weak, and the ensemble spoke in quiet, muffled voices, impossible to decipher dialogue on any comprehensible level. Making matters worse, there was no intermission in this esoteric, lackluster play. Ostensibly, there were planning sessions, in the New York 1958 setting, planning to increase fundraising. With practically no sets, and casual street attire as costumes, the audience is faced with the mumbling and communal complaints. We watch the cast eat and whine. The scenes take place in April: the Greenroom of Heckscher Auditorium, 5th Ave. and 104th St., in June: an Upper West Side apartment, and in August: Belvedere lawn, Central Park, on a bench. Playing Joe Papp is John Magaro, one of the few actors who projected his voice. He would have been better served with a one-man show, addressing an intimate theater, dramatizing thematic monologue.

Additional characters include Peggy Papp, an actress and Joe’s wife (Kristen Connolly), Merle Debuskey, a press agent (Fran Kranz), Stuart Vaughn, director (John Sanders), Gladys Vaughn, Stuart’s wife and Joe’s assistant (Emma Duncan), David Amram, musician and composer (Blake Delong), John Robertson, stage manager (Max Woertendyke), and Colleen Dewhurst, an actress (Rosie Benton). Also in the ensemble are Will Brill as Bernie Gersten, Joe’s friend, and a stage manager, and Naian Gonzalez Norvind as Mary Bennett, a young actress. Having introduced the cast, I will elaborate on the above comments, that characters seemed (barely audible) rarely to address each other by name, only on entrance, and differentiated relationships developed in minimal increments. I recall comments about Mary, Stuart’s girlfriend, arriving to audition for a role as Ophelia, for, yes, Stuart, and for Joe, who arrives very late into the muffled dialogue. Joe is short but filled with energized machismo, good for this tiresome production. Also apparent is the level of intimate relationships Joe has built with Stuart, Bernie, Gladys, and David.

The final scene was the best, just Joe, Merle, and Stuart, huddled in light rain on a Central Park bench, after the lights have dimmed on the 1958 season’s last show. Joe has lost his network television job, because he won’t cooperate with Senator McCarthy’s hearings. He’s also been warned by Robert Moses to charge a small admission fee for the plays, and he’s challenged with a breakable, mobile stage apparatus. Joseph Papp, in that scene, is the Joseph Papp I remember from Shakespeare in the Park, the NY Shakespeare Festival. Mr. Nelson could have sat throughout the audience, during rehearsals, to test the sound system. He also could have hired a director for his play to highlight the innuendos of various stage relationships, most of which were opaque. The play has promise, but needs revisions in writing and staging. Susan Hilferty, who also “designed” the casual 50’s attire, also co-“designed” the scenery, tables, chairs, bench, props, etc. I look forward to learning more about Papp’s early years, and, meanwhile, will search documentaries and articles.

John Magaro and Fran Kranz
in Richard Nelson's "Illyria"
at The Public Theater
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

John Sanders and Fran Kranz
in Richard Nelson's "Illyria"
at The Public Theater
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

The Company of "Illyria"
at The Public Theater
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at