New York | 1h 40m | Already closed


From 36 critic and 129 member reviews
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. 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.

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

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

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


"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


“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." Full Review

Edge New York

"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." 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

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

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

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

Theater Pizzazz

"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." 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


"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." Full Review

Show Showdown

“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.” 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

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


"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

Village Voice

“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 hu... Full Review

The Playfixer

“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." Full Review

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Resonant, Refreshing

See it if You like: a strong director/writer, ensemble shows, slice of life scenes, casual plays, realistic acting, meta theatre, The Public, Joe Papp

Don't see it if You demand high intensity energetic entertainment from beginning to end. You are impatient. You don't like listening.

Must see, Refreshing, Great acting, Entertaining, Absorbing

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.

Great acting, Absorbing, Great writing, Resonant, Moving

See it if you care about theater and democracy and history and appreciate theatrical naturalism at its best

Don't see it if you are looking for light entertainment or melodrama

Absorbing, Masterful, Profound, Intelligent, Clever

See it if You are interested in conversational theatre, love the history of the Public Theatre and want to see a play that requires deep thought.

Don't see it if You get bored easy, You don’t want to know about Joseph Papp’s early struggles. You can’t listen attentively.

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.

Absorbing, Clever, Entertaining, Intelligent, Profound

See it if Great acting performance. The acting is amazing and the story line is interesting

Don't see it if You get bored easily and want to see a musical

Intelligent, Relevant, Resonant, Great acting

See it if If you are a fan of Shakespeare In the Park or Public Theater, you will find this story of Joe Papp trying to get started riveting.

Don't see it if If you don't care about free Shakespeare or the Public Theater.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Masterful

See it if you can appreciate the artful way the writer presents the lived social and political life of historically important theater people.

Don't see it if naturalism in theater isn't to your liking.

Also The play absorbed my attention and ultimately brought me to the edge o... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great writing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, A feast for the theatrical soul!

See it if you're interested in history/role of theater in NYC, or NYC and U.S. politics of the 1950s. Evokes NORMAL HEART (albeit far less intense).

Don't see it if you're not up for dialogue-driven play about founding of the Public Theatre, its battles vs. Robert Moses & HUAC, & Papp as force of nature.

Also Dialogue is naturalistic and can be, at times, hard to hear. Come prep... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Slow, Intelligent, 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.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Resonant, Thought-provoking

See it if You want to be in the rooms where it happened . ..with Joe Papp through the growing pains of the Public Theater

Don't see it if You don't feel like listening , they call it conversational

Absorbing, Intelligent, Great writing, Interesting

See it if you're interested in theatre history and Joseph Papp; you've liked Richard Nelson's recent plays.

Don't see it if you don't like quiet, talky plays.

Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Intelligent, Intimate

See it if you are interested in the history of the Public Theater and if you've enjoyed Nelson's conversational plays.

Don't see it if you have little interest in theater history or if you're looking for highly dramatic scenes and conflicts.

Absorbing, Great writing, Riveting, Intelligent

See it if Wonderful production for anyone interested in theater history. Well written and produced.Nelson wrote and directed a winner!

Don't see it if Do not see if you only enjoy musicals or light dramas.

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

Great acting, Quirky, Thought-provoking, Absorbing

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.

Resonant, Relevant, Great acting

See it if You like nyc history, conversational plays.

Don't see it if Action.

Intelligent, Clever, Slow, Great acting

See it if you love the public theater

Don't see it if you need an intermission or don't know anything about the public theater or Shakespeare in the Park

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.

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.

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

Absorbing, Great acting, Delightful, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if You love theater, and history- do or don't know much about Joe Papp.. the orgin of the Public theater and 1958 NYC sentiment concerning same

Don't see it if You don't like small quiet "talky" drama. Aren't interested in theater, background story behind The Public & early innovative ideas

Mumblecore?, Arts advocacy history lesson, Nyc preservationist history lesson, Alt apple family?, Let us hear it

See it if arts advocacy/preservationist leanings, Pappism, leisurely storytelling, leaning forward to hear, are your thing

Don't see it if almost inaudible, almost Chekovian, dinner/casting table centered drama, are not your thing

Also At the Q&A following the 11/19 matinee, the staff member and community... Read more Read less

Intelligent, Relevant, Slow, Cozy

See it if You have deep interest in Joe Papp & co, Shakespeare in the Park, or Richard Nelson's playwriting style.

Don't see it if You're expecting a lifelong biographical play. This takes place in a single summer. Or if you don't like quiet, talky, self-contained plays.

Great acting, Resonant, Thought-provoking, Indulgent, Good writing

See it if You are fascinated by the history of the non-profit theater in NY, particularly the Public Theater.

Don't see it if You find largely conversational plays talky and prefer emphasis on plot over dialogue.

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