Closed 1h 40m
Illyria
East Village
71

Illyria NYC Reviews and Tickets

71%
(129 Reviews)
Positive
61%
Mixed
30%
Negative
9%
Members say
Slow, Great acting, Disappointing, Intelligent, 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.

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Member Reviews (129)

42
Excruciating, Slow, Indulgent, Disappointing, Missed opportunity

See it if you liked the Apple & Gabriel plays (tho this is Nelson's weakest work by far) & want a cursory (at best) glimpse at the Public's origin.

Don't see it if you want to learn anything valuable about Papp or the the Public Theatre. This boring play, spoken by insufferable low-talkers, is a waste. Read more

82
Great acting, Intelligent, Ambitious, Absorbing, Relevant

See it if you've liked Nelson's Apple & Gabriel Family plays, are interested in the history of the Public Theatre & familiar with its early artists

Don't see it if you don't like quietly conversational works, don't care about or not familiar with the Public Theatre's early struggles or Robert Moses

Critic Reviews (36)

October 30th, 2017

"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."
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October 30th, 2017

"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."
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October 30th, 2017

"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."
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October 30th, 2017

"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."
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November 4th, 2017

“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.”
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November 5th, 2017

"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."
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October 30th, 2017

"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."
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October 30th, 2017

"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."
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October 31st, 2017

“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."
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October 30th, 2017

“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.”
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November 17th, 2017

“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.”
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November 13th, 2017

"In his absorbing new play, 'Illyria,' Nelson makes you feel like a privileged insider, inviting you behind the scenes to meet Papp and his co-founders...It’s a conversational style of theatre, intimate and non-dramatic – but it makes a deep and lasting impact...Sums up the character of this complex charismatic leader, who led a theatre company through its formative years into a glorious future of challenges and triumphs, of which we all are beneficiaries."
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October 30th, 2017

"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."
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October 31st, 2017

“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 Papp...it’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."
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October 31st, 2017

“While the final scene gives some human and narrative payoff...the road there is long and paved with an awful lot of repetitive, testosterone-fueled bluster...The main arc of the play doesn’t give much more than a snapshot of Papp’s personality...Underneath that main arc, though, move some very interesting questions...Where the battles for real estate and urban vibrancy are being fought, passionately, by the characters, the gender issues seem unrecognized within the play."
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November 10th, 2017

“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.”
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October 30th, 2017

"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."
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November 12th, 2017

"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."
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November 5th, 2017

"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."
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October 30th, 2017

"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."
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October 30th, 2017

"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."
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October 31st, 2017

“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.”
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November 28th, 2017

“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.”
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October 30th, 2017

"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."
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October 31st, 2017

“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."
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October 30th, 2017

"Magaro delivers a complex Papp, a man bursting with ideas and insecurities...But ultimately the slice-of-life presentation feels lacking. We get only snippets of important bits...Annoyingly, the actors almost always speak in quiet, conversational tones, making it difficult to catch every word. Still, anyone fascinated by theatrical history will enjoy the anecdotes."
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October 30th, 2017

"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."
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November 5th, 2017

"The most lovely thing about writer and director Richard Nelson's evocative new play, 'Illyria,' is that it's told in his gentle, fly-on-the-wall style...We get to know this group of theater friends not through highly-dramatic happenings, but through their intimate conversations...It's that undertone of canniness that keeps the play from being too sentimental...Unfortunately, they are more soft-spoken than the 'Gabriels' cast — I often had trouble catching whole phrases."
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November 12th, 2017

"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."
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November 13th, 2017

“Every young boy and girl who plans to be a performer must see ‘Illyria.’ You should, too. Through Richard Nelson’s new play and production, everyone can see what real acting is – meaning acting that doesn’t seem to be acting at all…Nelson gets a natural, unadorned and unassuming performance from each of his 10 actors…Once again see that underplaying is a much better choice than over-the-top. Call this Theater-of-the-Matter-of-Fact."
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November 8th, 2017

“Nelson's plays are really, really, really just not for everyone. They work for me, though. ‘Illyria’ might not feel like quite the lifeline the Gabriel plays were a year ago, but I found it to be similarly comforting and moving just the same...Conversation, typically ultra-natural, steers clear of obvious exposition...The play manages enough detail for audience members who know very little about Papp or the Public to make sense of what's going on.”
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November 6th, 2017

"Nelson's latest play has made the audience into flies-on-the-wall...Performances were excellent, although I found Magaro’s Joe Papp attractive but too mild-mannered...More aggressiveness in Magaro’s performance might have heightened the overall presentation...Although not as theatrical as I would have preferred, the show is enticing to anyone who would enjoy knowing more about Papp and his early contributions to New York City theater."
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November 6th, 2017

"In his signature quiet and conversational way, Nelson provides three glimpses of Papp and colleagues...As usual, there’s much to admire in Nelson’s artful writing in which a group of like-minded people is sensitively presented. But despite the backstage intrigue, there’s a decided lack of urgency and drama...Nelson directs assuredly, but his generally fine cast is upended by John Magaro’s pallid and unfocused Papp."
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October 31st, 2017

"The work fascinates as it also provides a window into a time of political foment where artists were still being summoned to the McCarthy tribunal and many in City government were bowing down to a kind of political cronyism and fear mongering the likes of which we are again being buffeted by...The cast delights as it works seamlessly...Author Nelson, also directs, imbuing the play with an even greater intimacy."
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November 3rd, 2017

“There is almost no plot, but it’s fascinating to watch and hear these young versions of people who went on to great success as they try to figure out how to keep Papp’s dream afloat...Nelson has directed the play and much of it is 'conversational’ – meaning so low in volume that even I, sitting in the second row, missed a lot of it...If you are fascinated with this period in our theatre history, I think you will have a good time. If you’re not, you’ll probably find ‘Illyria’ a tough slog."
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November 3rd, 2017

“As unshowy a play as you’re ever likely to see about show people...It’s revealing, when you tease significance from it...It’s also at times a little listless, quiet enough that if you’re not in the front rows you might have to lean in and strain to catch it all. It’s less like you’re watching a play than trying to make sense of your first day at an internship...The show is often muted...'Illyria’s' artists catch us up in their rich, reeling talk. But the scale and scope here is vigorously human."
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