Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Richard Nelson
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Richard NelsonRichard Nelson

Richard Nelson was 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 Molière. 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.


The Killing of Yablomki 1975
Conjuring An Event 1976
Jungle Coup 1978
The Vienna Notes 1979
Bal 1980
Rip Van Winkle or the Works 1981
The Return of Pinocchio 1982
An American Comedy 1983
Between East and West 1983
Principia Scriptoriae 1986
Languages Spoken Here (radio play) 1987
Sensibility and Sense 1987
Roots in Water 1988
Eating Words (radio play) 1989
Some Americans Abroad 1989
Two Shakespearean Actors 1990
Advice to Eastern Europe (radio play) 1990
The End of a Sentence (television play) 1991
Columbus and the Discovery of Japan 1992
Ethan Frome (screenplay of Edith Wharton's book) 1992
Life Sentences 1993
Misha's Party (with Alexander Gelman) 1993
The American Wife (radio play) 1994
New England 1994

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Last modified: 2012-03-15