On the Stage, Behind the Scenes and In the Audience
Hewes Design Awards - 1984
Born in Chicago in 1950, while at college in New York State he had several short plays produced and after graduating spent a year in England. Returning to America in 1973, he wrote a series of radio plays, many of which used for their source material current American affairs, notably the Watergate scandal as it unfolded. Richard Nelson’s first professional stage production was The Killing of Yablonski. Developing his interest in reportage the play dealt with a journalist’s investigation into a recent political assassination. This was followed by two more plays Conjuring An Event and Jungle Coup, both of which also had a reporter at the centre of the action. Over the next five years Nelson consciously experimented with different dramatic forms from the epic Rip Van Winkle or The Works to the mock 30s farce of An American Comedy, the agitprop of The Return of Pinocchio and the expressionism of Bal. Throughout the early 80s Richard Nelson also worked as a dramaturg to the British director, David Jones, the Rumanian Liviu Cliulei and the American Gregory Mosher. During this time, he prepared adaptations of plays from the international repertoire by Beaumarchais, Brecht, Chekhov, Erdman, Fo, Goldoni and Moliére. Working on Chekhov’s Three Sisters had a particularly strong effect on his own original writing. These international relationships also developed an interest in cultural differences and rootlessness. This theme was given its first and most obvious expression in the 1983 play Between East and West, where a Czech emigre couple find themselves at a loss in New York City. This play was presented in England at the Hampstead Theatre. On a more popular front, he explored similar themes in his book for the American production of the musical Chess in 1988, where East meets West over the chess board. New England is the sixth play by Richard Nelson to be presented at the RSC. In each he has continued to explore his preoccupation with characters who are alienated from the world in which they find themselves. In Principia Scriptoriae two young writers are imprisoned in Central America and are forced to address their art in the face of tyranny. In Some Americans Abroad a group of American academics look to England for their cultural heritage, while in Two Shakespearean Actors 19th-century English and American actors in New York compete to establish their legitimacy. In Columbus and the Discovery of Japan heroic adventure is ironically explored as accident, while Misha’s Party (co-written with Alexander Gelman) has Russian dinner guests failing to recognise the significance of a revolution happening outside their restaurant.