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Iru Magazine - Illyria

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Venue: The Public Theater, New York

Director-playwright: Richard Nelson


Rosie Benton

Will Brill

Kristen Connolly

Blake DeLong

Emma Duncan

Naian González Norvind

Fran Kranz

John Magaro

John Sanders

Max Woertendyke


Director-playwright: Richard Nelson

Set designers: Susan Hilferty, Jason Ardizzone-West

Costume designer: Susan Hilferty

Lighting designer: Jennifer Tipton

Sound designer: Scott Lehrer

The brainchild of playwright and director, Richard Nelson, “Illyria” tells the story of Joe Papp (John Magaro) as he fights tirelessly to produce Shakespeare in the Park, and in so doing lays the foundation for the Delacorte Theater. The delightful domestic drama highlights the conversations and difficulties Papp encounters while attempting to follow through on his belief that theater should be free and available to everyone.

Comprised of three scenes, most of which involve sitting around a table and sharing a meal, the actors communicate with one another as would real people in everyday situations. The conversations are low, and attendees would be encouraged to pick up a set of headphones when offered upon entry. Set in 1958 the play documents the un-accommodating interactions between Joe Papp and The City’s Park department as they quarrel over ticket admissions and the production of Shakespeare plays in Central Park. 

The low vocality does not take away from the performance; in fact it enhances it, by lending a calm humanity and palpability that makes the characters relatable. The viewer gets the sense that she is listening in on conversations of real people not meant to be heard. The actors speak over one another, and mumble here and there, but it is for the purpose of establishing a realistic dialogue.

Surrounded by colleagues who are more like family, Joe Papp is not alone in the challenges he faces. Some points of contention include competing with other theaters, such as the Phoenix Company and the not-yet-built Lincoln Center. Additionally a point of conflict is when Joe is faced with the pressing decision of who will play the lead in “Twelfth Night,” new comer Mary Bennet (Naian González Norvind) or Papp’s own wife Peggy (Kristen Connolly).This dilemma occurs while Joe’s rocky friendship with Stuart Vaughn (John Sanders) escalates, eventually erupting in a heated exchange.

The demands of developing his own theater company while producing shows and fighting for the right to present them publicly, seemed to only fuel the drive of Joe Papp. Overcoming every obstacle, he refused to back down and remained steadfast until his dreams were realized. If you are looking for a dramatic theatrical production then this is not the play for you, but if you are looking for an edifying true to life story, I urge you to see, “Illyria.”

//Aisha Marie Sho @Shaka_Sho