Members say: Slow, Great acting, Intelligent, Disappointing, Absorbing

About the show

Tony Award-winning playwright and director Richard Nelson returns to the Public to reveal a forgotten chapter of the Public Theater’s own history.

... Read more

It is 1958, and New York City is in the midst of a major building boom; a four-lane highway is planned for the heart of Washington Square; Carnegie Hall is designated for demolition; entire neighborhoods on the West Side are leveled to make room for a new 'palace of art.' And a young Joe Papp and his colleagues face betrayals, self-inflicted wounds, and anger from the city’s powerful elite as they continue their free Shakespeare productions in Central Park. 'Illyria' is a family drama about a different kind of family–one held together by the simple and incredibly complicated belief that the theater, and the city, belong to all of us.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

The New York Times

"If you don’t know much about the real Joseph Papp, you may wonder what the heck’s going on and why you should be interested. If you do know a lot about Papp and his associates, you may be a bit exasperated by the liberties Mr. Nelson has taken...But 'Illyria' also affords distinctive if fleeting pleasures that no one these days does better than Nelson...Theatergoers with patience will be rewarded by moments throughout when they will feel transformed into proverbial flies on the walls." Full Review


"Audiences will recognize a deep humanity and quiet perseverance in the play — if they can manage to stay awake. It's actually impressive how Nelson is able to provoke big yawns with such a fascinating tale...Nelson populates his drama with a cast of real characters...Their aggressively mild portrayals leave us with the aftertaste of mayonnaise: We never get a real sense of any of them...In pursuit of realism, Nelson downplays the stakes of this vitally relevant story." Full Review


“The tepid tone and low energy level of ‘Illyria’ would have us believe that the birth of the New York Shakespeare Festival was a walk in the park...Nelson doesn’t make much of these real historical challenges...As far as dramatic conflict, the play doesn’t totally flatline. The real problem is with the tone-deaf performance style that Nelson has adopted...Almost everyone falls into the stumble-and-mumble company style...The lack of energy in this production is enough to knock you out cold.” Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"More frustrating than edifying, more obscure than enlightening...I sat in the third row and still couldn't make out much of the dialogue...The dialogue is so low-key and matter-of-fact that it fails to engage our attention...Subject matter so potentially fascinating makes it all the more frustrating that Illyria proves so tedious and lifeless. There's so little passion exhibited that it ironically only makes you wonder how the New York Shakespeare Festival ever got off the ground." Full Review

Time Out New York

"The play may be unpleasant, but at least it isn’t puffery...Dull drama...It’s dramatically inert, though the characters talk about important issues like civic space and the corrosive power of government ideologues...Nelson wants his work to be naturalistic and unfussy, but winds up with enforced murmuring...You can sense the strain it puts on the actors to speak in voices that can’t be heard, and many of them turn in mannered, uncomfortable performances. 'Illyria' has only one good scene." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"A dramatically-engrossing greenroom chronicle...Nelson serves himself well as director...Nelson, by having the performance purposely underamplified, seems to encourage the notion that you needn’t necessarily hear every word that is said...The heretofore little-known Magaro dominates the play...Magaro—like the bantam Joe himself—is small and intense, with a smile and enthusiasm that can sway the severest naysayers. Brill and Kranz are excellent as Papp’s staunch henchmen." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“Nelson's sliver of a drama, even if it sometimes feels constricted, has its own fascinations...Seeing ‘Illyria’ is like listening in on a private conversation; you have to figure out what's happening...'Illyria' may be challenging for those not conversant with Papp's biography...Adding to the difficulty is the throwaway performance style...The actors are, too often, simply inaudible...Still, there's something authentically touching -- and strangely of the moment -- about Nelson's portrait." Full Review

Theater Life

“A compelling view of an insider world...’Illyria’ is played and directed (by Nelson) in such a low-key manner it’s like eavesdropping on private conversations. But that’s exactly the effect the playwright-director is after...John Magaro conveys the fury and brilliance of Papp while John Sanders captures Vaughan’s measured cautious nature. They and the rest of the company create an illusion of intimacy as a legendary theater is born.” Full Review

DC Theatre Scene

"None of this is dramatized so much as revealed through conversation in three scenes set several months apart...'llyria' is probably best appreciated as a glimpse into the passion that theater ignites in its practitioners, especially for those theatergoers who are not fully versed in the history of the Public Theater and its principal players." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“A string of anecdotes…and historical references do not a play - a good one, at any rate - make…The dialogue and behavior seek to be ordinary, and off the cuff, as untheatrical as possible; the speaking is often so low key that early reviews and word of mouth are causing long lines…to borrow assisted listening devices…Given that so much of the talk is small talk, that 'dramatic' moments arise very sporadically, and that the play's narrative arc is so languorous, the play quickly begins to drag.” Full Review

AM New York

"A quiet, talky, pensive and unresolved new drama...The play ends without climax or even a hint of resolution, and much of the conversation rambles on too long, but those who appreciate Nelson’s intimate, low-key, ensemble-oriented aesthetic and Off-Broadway history will not want to miss it." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"Takes Nelson’s material to a new kind of low energy...The show is so low key that you can barely hear the actors and it is hard to comment when nobody seems to be acting...Lincoln Center wanting to get Papp kicked out because they wanted a theatre and a park, is interesting. Watching people talk around a table is not. I am a huge history buff and especially when it comes to the entertainment field. In this case, I would rather search the internet or read a book on the subject." Full Review


"Nelson sketches absorbing portraits of Papp and the tight circle who ventured with him...'Illyria' continues Nelson’s preoccupation with conversational presentation in which the actors speak sotto voce, forcing us to listen hard...It’s far less effective here...Moreover, the male players in this history, starting with Papp himself, were a volatile lot, something you’d never know from the hushed tones prevailing here...'Illyria' has second act problems. Notably: There isn’t one." Full Review


"His directorial approach is very much in the non-stagey, realistic mode of the Apple plays, with the actors to speak conversationally and not always easy to hear...This is essentially a backstage story that doesn't pull you in right away...The dialogue in the second and third scenes becomes sharper, the conflicts more intense and timely — especially given arts institutions nowadays under budget cutting assaults by the powers that be in Washington. The actors too get more into their roles." Full Review

Front Row Center

“It’s a dramatic tale filled with ambition, creativity, genius, pride, politics, manipulation, celebrity and historically significant events...‘Illyria’ feels like a corner seat in the room where it happened...Although you know this is about THE Joseph’s actually a quiet, realistic piece about some kids who have a dream and no money. Nelson lays out all the struggles and the obstacles, not least of which is Papp’s well-documented volcanic temperament." Full Review


“Nelson's strong suit in recent years has been to move large groups of people around and talking as intimates which is well evident in the new play. However, as director he has kept the tone ‘conversational’ as he has called it in his last seven plays, in which no one raises their voices and all seem almost to be whispering. This proves to be very un-theatrical and makes the play seem like there is no dramatic event.” Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

"I fear that playwright Richard Nelson is in danger of becoming a victim of self-parody. He seems to have succumbed to a one-size-fits-all solution to every dramatic problem...He has definitely hit the point of diminishing returns is his latest effort for the Public Theater...At the end of the long first scene, I was hopeful; by the end of the second, considerably less so. The rambling third scene squandered whatever positive feelings I had left for the play." Full Review

The Wrap

"I spoke to several people who had severe problems hearing the actors...It’s a pity because 'Illyria' is one of the best new plays to open in New York City this year...There’s never a misstep in Nelson’s script or any of the performances...'Illyria' is a must-see for anyone who cares about the theater. Just make sure you rent a listening device or sit in the first row." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

“I interviewed the late producer Joe Papp many years ago and there was more energy in five minutes of our talk than is projected in the entire play...There is little in the thin, softly spoken play to indicate the dynamism that made Papp one of the theater’s most important producers...Nelson is probably the wrong writer to have tackled the drama about Papp and his colleagues...Nostalgia does peek through, but the result is mostly boring. Papp deserves better.” Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

“Director-playwright Richard Nelson opts for an ultra-naturalistic, stripped-down approach...The female parts seem a little thinly sketched, though that may be a commentary on 1950s gender politics...Nelson’s dialogue perfectly mimics the rhythms of ordinary conversation...Those Chekhovian discussions unfold against a subtly evoked backdrop of lurking menace." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

“Nelson, who is a master of naturalism and making theater in the present, here presents something that lies between a diorama and a shared dream…Three masterful scenes…There's a sense of scrappy camaraderie that helps the play avoid any facile foreshadowing…There are lovely scenes in which characters have long conversations about life and art while eating copious meals, which in this case help transform these potential ghosts into flesh and bone beings…An exceptional production.” Full Review


"Transfixing and rhapsodic; a lovely portrait of a group of young artists struggling to find their place in the world...Nelson (who also directed) and his cast display a note-perfect grasp of these characters, their individual rhythms and their group dynamics -- the audience truly comes to feel like flies on the wall...A striking vision emerges, one that understands the impossibly difficult, brick-by-brick, minute-by-minute process of creating any work of art." Full Review

Daily Beast

"Part of the play’s charm is how its characters communicate, which is with a free-wheeling naturalism where sentences clash into each other, and people mutter or giggle. As beguiling as this is, you strain to hear what is being said...At its worst, 'Illyria' feels not only frustratingly inaudible at times but wincingly smug and self-indulgent...It is very easy to fall in love, in fitful stretches at least, with its characters." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"Actors in 'Illyria' are doing delicate, absorbing work conjuring very real people. The play is quite literally understated...I might even call it navel-gazing — but perhaps that’s all right when you have, admittedly, a very interesting navel...Almost feels more like documentary or museum recreation than theater itself. But despite its conscious avoidance of the dramatic, the piece ultimately works its way between your ribs." Full Review

Stage Buzz

"While certainly a subject worth discussing, things start to become repetitive rather quickly...None of the characters feel in any way three-dimensional, and thus, not all that interesting. Rather ironic, since just about all of those depicted are real people...Despite the work's various shortcomings, the cast give it their all...A fascinating tale and one that certainly deserves to be told. 'Illyria,' however, is not the vehicle with which to tell it." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Great acting, Slow

See it if You're interested in the history behind the New York Shakespeare Festival and Joe Papp

Don't see it if you have trouble focusing sitting for a long play with no intermission.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Slow, Entertaining

See it if You love theatre history! Even if a few liberties have been taken.

Don't see it if You can’t concentrate on a story that drags on.

Intelligent, Confusing

See it if you're interested in the early days of the New York Shakespeare Festival, and you don't insist on complete historical accuracy.

Don't see it if you're unfamiliar with the people who were involved in creating the NYSF, or you would be bothered by not being able to hear every line.

Great acting, Intelligent, Great writing, Slow, Entertaining

See it if you like "slice of life" plays or have an interest in Joe Papp.

Don't see it if you like plot heavy plays or detailed historical dramas.

Great acting, Disappointing, Slow

See it if Like good dialogue Richard Nelson does that well wish it was more interesting story

Don't see it if Two hours too long without intermission in a story that does not hold up not unhappy to have seen but disappointed

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Quirky

See it if you have fond memories of Joe Papp/The Public and are curious about how this important theatre became history. You are a fly, witnessing...

Don't see it if you want fireworks. This is a meditation on being in the room where it happened. You are invited to observe and it is quiet and personal.

Great acting, Intelligent, Disappointing

See it if You want an insight into one of the giants of the American stage. If you want to see a tight ensemble in action.

Don't see it if You don’t care for super naturalism. I was in the second row and it was hard to hear. The strategy means there is no rising action or climax

Great acting, Intelligent, Disappointing, Slow, Low-volume

See it if Mr. Nelson's conversational plays; historical (1958) story based on Public's early founders when it started with NY Shakespeare Festival

Don't see it if want something as moving as Mr. Nelson's other conversational plays - thought the 2nd scene was his most traditional & moving; slow at end

Great writing, Disappointing, Slow

See it if You are interested in the Public’s roots - or are a fan of Richard Nelson’s writing

Don't see it if You are expecting to be engaged. These characters just don’t draw you in. They are not the Gabriels.

Also The subject and writing were interesting and this might make a better ... Read more Read less

Great acting, Disappointing, Overrated, Slow, Too long

See it if you enjoy good acting...

Don't see it if you bore easily, & don't mind not being able to hear much of what is being said, even if sitting in the front row & have perfect hearing...

Also Was hoping to learn about Joseph Papp's life, but it just spoke about ... Read more Read less

Banal, Disappointing, Slow, Needs editing, Expected more

See it if you like a good ensemble in an intimate setting; you are interested in the early days of Joe Papp and the people in his circle.

Don't see it if The play is slow moving and dull. I was hoping a play about early Papp would be more interesting and meaty. Dialogue is often inaudible.

Ambitious, Quirky, Indulgent, Great writing, Overrated

See it if like a conversational piece about a theoretical beginning to Shakespeare in the Park, real characters hypothetical conversations

Don't see it if if you are looking for drama.

Ambitious, Quirky, Relevant, Disappointing, Entertaining

See it if You are very interested in Joe Papp and the history of Shakespeare in the Park

Don't see it if You want light entertainment

Great acting, Intelligent, Refreshing

See it if you are willing to think about how theater in New York became what it is today.

Don't see it if You are hard of hearing.

Clever, Epic, Interesting

See it if you're a theater history nerd and has a pretty good hearing

Don't see it if you cant stand actors not projecting their voices.

Intelligent, Resonant, Entertaining

See it if you want to know more about Joseph Papp and how he started free Shakespeare in the Park. His struggle with close collaborators and Rob Moses

Don't see it if you don't find a docu play of interest

Approximates malaria

See it if Theater junkies will appreciate the tale of this great institution's birth. The usual smart and polished direction by Nelson.

Don't see it if Pace is too slow. Cast clearly directed by Nelson to be "real", as in real slow cue pick ups. Cast conveyed a bad acid trip a decade early.

Also This is the theatrical equivalent of the mumble core trend in cinema. ... Read more Read less

Boring, Indulgent, Disappointing, Slow, Self-congratulatory

See it if you need a nap. The seat was comfortable and the theater was dark, and I felt myself dozing off. Also see if you enjoy all-white casting. :/

Don't see it if you need to wash your hair, you want to be entertained or inspired, you'll miss the two hours of your life you'll never get back, etc.

Also I get that they love ol' Joe. This tribute should have been a one-nigh... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Slow, Interesting, Quotidian

See it if You have at least a passing interest in the history of The Public Theater and Joe Papp. You enjoy the day to day struggles of real life.

Don't see it if You need sturm und drang in your theater. You are embarrassed to ask for the assisted hearing devices some may require.

Very small stripped down version of a riveting tale.

See it if you dont mind an utter lack of drama.

Don't see it if you have any trouble hearing. This is basically a small group of talking heads with overlapping banal dialog.

Also The Forum that was presented on this was fascinating, even with the un... Read more Read less

A window into the early years of the public

See it if you want to see the imagination of some of the struggles to get the public going

Don't see it if you want to be left feeling Joseph Papp was a nice guy (But kuddos are due him for his role in the Public being established)

Absorbing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you want to see a naturalistic style play about a young Joe Papp and his friends in the early days of the New York Shakespeare Festival.

Don't see it if you need a lot of fast action or don't like talky plays

Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if You want to dive into a very different time in the history of NYC and the Public Theater.

Don't see it if You're hard of hearing

Also It's hard to imagine a time when Shakespeare in the Park was under thr... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Must see, Refreshing, Entertaining

See it if You want to see a very natural play where you feel you're a fly on the wall, observing party events.

Don't see it if You'd prefer to be transported to a magical world. This play is very grounded and centered on the real world.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing

See it if If you love stories about the theater.Told in a natural conversational manner.

Don't see it if If you need a intermission.

Cast & Creatives (17)