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.


"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." 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

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“A string of anecdotes…and historical references do not a play - a good one, at any rate - make…The dialogue and behavior seek to be ordinary, and off the cuff, as untheatrical as possible; the speaking is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

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

Film Festival Traveler

"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." 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


“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

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

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


"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 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

Intelligent, Entertaining, Thought-provoking

See it if You like Richard Nelson's plays. You feel that you are eavesdropping on a conversation. You also will learn a little about Joe Papp.

Don't see it if You like a lot of action. This is quiet, interesting conversation play.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Entertaining

See it if It gives a true understanding of Shakespeare in the Park’s evolution.’

Don't see it if You have no interest in this subject and find it boring, do no buy tickets.

Entertaining, Intelligent, Resonant

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

Disappointing, Ambitious, Intelligent

See it if you want to know something about the history of Joe Papp and his milieu

Don't see it if you expect to learn how Joe Papp became successful in his endeavors to bring good theater to the public

Indulgent, Great writing, Thought-provoking, Insider-baseball, Nyc-theatre-centric

See it if Masterful play construction and talented ensemble provide a (true?) historical view of a crucial point in The Public Theatre's existence

Don't see it if Must be curious and caring for The Public AND New York City in the early 1960s otherwise your own score might be 20 points less

Subtle, Great acting, Slow

See it if enjoy Public's Shakespeare in the Park. Close to real life writing and directing approach.

Don't see it if get irritated when you can't see and hear the actors well. Quiet dialogues, slow conflict development.

Entertaining, Funny, Great writing, Intelligent

See it if you like shows about rarely discussed historical eras. That are told from an insiders perspective.

Don't see it if you like period pieces that are told from a broader view and have major implications.

Absorbing, Clever, Great writing, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if you care about theatre in New York City and are looking for great acting and staging

Don't see it if you have no interest in the history of the Public Theater

Interesting, Loooong, Speak up please, Realistic

See it if you like dialogue driven plays based on true stories with naturalistic acting, to a fault.

Don't see it if you have a problem sitting for 2 hours and straining to hear "conversational" dialogue, or have no interest in the Public's backstory.

Also Ok, I get that a choice was made for naturalism, but really, is it nec... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Dated, Slow, Ambitious, Indulgent

See it if You enjoy history plays without emphasis on history, but more slice of life approach.

Don't see it if You get easily bored as it runs 2 hrs without intermission,

History play, Slow, Relevant to theatrical setting, Excellent acting, Enlighting

See it if You know the story of Joseph Papp and the founding of Shakespeare in the Park. Historical and geographic references require this knowledge.

Don't see it if You're not familiar with the story of the founding of the Public. This show can be frustrating because the arc or plot is difficult to see.

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, Intelligent, Entertaining, Thought-provoking

See it if you like intelligent theater, a well-told story, and are interested in the history of NY's Public Theater and Joe Papp.

Don't see it if you don't like talky quiet plays where nothing much happens, or if you are really hard of hearing and won't use the listening devices.

Absorbing, Relevant, Quirky, Naturalistic, Realism

See it if You are interested in how theater is made. Also, if you know something about the Public already, or are interested in learning about it.

Don't see it if You like any spectacle. Natural realism at its finest. Definitely not everyone's cup of tea.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Relevant, Entertaining

See it if You are interested in the history of NYC and 20th Century theater.

Don't see it if You don't like talky plays about a very specific niche in history.

Find out what a young joe papp was like before he became "joe papp" of the public theater fame

See it if become fly on wall (1958) when young Papp beset by financial woes/resistance 2 free Shakespeare; but Papp's relentlessness shines thru

Don't see it if play consists of conversations delivered so softly/off-handedly that it's hard to hear the words & dramatic moments are drained of drama

Clever, Slow, Relevant, Indulgent, Great acting

See it if You’re interested in theatre history, NYC history, or theatre that talks about theatre. Or if you’re a Fran Kranz fan.

Don't see it if You want something fast paced or loud or if you’re particularly hard of hearing. Know that it’s somewhat dated since it’s historical.

Good acting, Interesting, Indulgent

See it if you have any interest in backstory about Joseph Papp and the precursor to Shakespeare in the Park. Several strong performances, but uneven.

Don't see it if you have zero interest in a production by the Public about the founder of the Public. Some actors don't project well; can be hard to hear.

Disappointing, Intelligent

See it if you're interested in early history of an important theater; it's a "conversation" between insiders, often interesting

Don't see it if you're annoyed by excessive mumbling; also, missed opportunity to say more about Robert Moses

Disappointing, Great acting, Slow, Relevant, Ambitious

See it if if you are interested in some of the struggles and trials of the beginning of the Free Shakespeare in park. Nelson captures the history

Don't see it if if you are Nelson fan. He uses a great cast to depict a moment in history. good look at Papp creating Skakespeare in park

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing

See it if you enjoy excellent dialogue that is well acted and staged

Don't see it if you prefer more active theatre and louder speaking

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.

Ambitious, Intelligent, Slow

See it if You're interested in the beginnings of the Public Theater. Really enjoy plays by Richard Nelson. Love the exchange of ideas on stage.

Don't see it if you find Nelson plays with actors talking at a dining room table boring. Want lots of action. Uninterested in Joe Papp or the Public Theater

Slow, Great acting, Disappointing

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

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Cast & Creatives (17)