Richard Nelson
BornRichard John Nelson
(1950-10-17) October 17, 1950 (age 71)
Chicago, Illinois
Notable works
Notable awardsObie Award, Rockefeller Playwright-in-Residence Award, Giles Cooper Award, Tony Award, Olivier Award, Drama Desk Award, PEN/Laura Pels Award
SpouseCynthia Blair Bacon (m. 1972)

Richard John Nelson (born October 17, 1950) is an American playwright and librettist. He wrote the books for the Tony Award-winning musicals James Joyce's The Dead and the Broadway version of Chess, as well as the critically acclaimed play cycle The Rhinebeck Panorama.[1]

Personal life

Nelson was born in Chicago, Illinois to Viola, a dancer, and Richard Finis Nelson, an accounting-systems analyst and some times sales representative.[2] During Nelson's childhood, the family moved frequently to accommodate his father's work, but they settled for long stretches in Gary, Indiana, the outskirts of Philadelphia, and finally in a suburb of Detroit. Nelson's earliest theatrical influences were in musical theatre, and he estimates that he saw more than twenty-five musicals before ever seeing his first straight play.[3]

He graduated from Hamilton College in 1972, and received an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Hamilton College in 2004.[4]

He married Cynthia Blair Bacon on May 21, 1972; they have two children, Zoe (b. 1983) and Jocelyn (b. 1988).[2]


He has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and had ten plays produced there. Those plays include: Principia Scriptoriae (1986), Some Americans Abroad (1989), Two Shakespearean Actors (1990),[5] Columbus and the Discovery of Japan (1992), Misha's Party (1993),[6] New England (1994),[7] The General From America (1996)[8] and Goodnight Children Everywhere (1997).[9][10]

in November 2006, Frank's Home, about two days in the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, premiered in Chicago, Nelson's home town, at the Goodman Theatre (in association with Playwrights Horizons).[11] In an interview in The Brooklyn Rail at the time of its New York debut, Nelson offers advice to young writers: "My advice is always to write, to write what really matters. I ask my students two questions: Why did you write it? And should I watch it? People ask about structure, form, character development, and I’m not even sure what all of that means. Try not to second guess yourself. Form will come if you focus on what you want to say with truth and honesty. Structure is the hand that holds up what you want to say."[12] From 2005 to 2008, Nelson was the chair of the playwriting department at the Yale School of Drama.[13]

The Apple Family plays

From 2010 to 2013, Nelson wrote and directed four plays centered around the Apple Family, a fictional household set in Rhinebeck, New York with each play focused on either an election or a significant historical anniversary. The main characters are three adult sisters, Barbara, Marian and Jane — called a "Chekhovian family pod" by the Variety reviewer.[14]

The first play in the series, That Hopey Changey Thing, focused on the 2010 midterm elections and opened on election night, November 2, 2010.[15] The second play, Sweet and Sad (2011), depicts the family on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.[14] The third play, Sorry, opened on November 6, 2012, and takes place during the 2012 presidential election.[16] The final play, Regular Singing (2013), is set on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Each play debuted off-Broadway at The Public Theater, featuring essentially the same cast members in each subsequent production.[17] With the opening of Regular Singing in 2013, the Public Theater presented the entire series in repertory.[18]

The cast of That Hopey Changey Thing, Sweet and Sad, and Sorry featured Jon DeVries as Benjamin Apple, Maryann Plunkett as Barbara Apple, Jay O. Sanders as Richard Apple, Shuler Hensley as Tim Andrews, Laila Robins as Marian Apple Platt and J. Smith-Cameron as Jane Apple Halls.[19] The cast of Regular Singing included the first three casts with the exceptions of Steven Kunken as Tim Andrews and Sally Murphy as Jane Apple Halls.[20]

On April 29, 2020, the Public live-streamed a new Apple Family play, What Do We Need to Talk About?. Again directed by Nelson, it reunited the cast from Regular Singing. The characters, now seven years older, meet by video during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Gabriels

Nelson has written a new trilogy, titled The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, focusing on the Gabriel family during the 2016 presidential election year. The same cast appears in all three plays: Meg Gibson (Karin Gabriel), Lynn Hawley (Hannah Gabriel), Roberta Maxwell (Patricia Gabriel), Maryann Plunkett (Mary Gabriel), Jay O. Sanders (George Gabriel), and Amy Warren (Joyce Gabriel). The first play, Hungry, opened off-Broadway at the Public Theatre on February 27, 2016 (previews), and officially on March 4, directed by Nelson.[21] The next play in the trilogy, What Did You Expect?, opened on September 10, 2016, in previews, officially on September 16 and closed on October 9.[22][23] The final play, Women of a Certain Age, opened on election night, November 8, 2016. and ran to December 4.[24][25][26] The three plays ran in repertory December 10 to 18.[27]

Hungry is set in Dutchess County, New York. The family of the recently deceased Thomas Gabriel are in the kitchen to prepare dinner. The group includes Thomas's widow, Mary; his sister, Joyce; his brother George and his wife Hannah; his elderly mother Patricia; and his first wife Karin. For dinner, the group peels apples for apple crisp and makes ratatouille and pasta. Referring to the political campaign, one character says: "God, it's going to be a long eight months."[28] What Did You Expect?, also set in Rhinebeck, takes place six months after Hungry. Patricia has taken a roommate at her retirement community, and her debts are the focus of the play. The family prepares for a picnic as they deal with their "fears of the post-recession world."[23] In Women of a Certain Age, set between 5 pm and 7 pm on election night, the Gabriels have gathered for dinner. George has picked up their son from college to vote and has driven him back. Joyce is at home and Patricia has also joined the group. The play ends without revealing the winner of the election.[26][29] Ben Brantley wrote: "Far more than in any of his other plays, Mr. Nelson comes close here to capturing the elusive, expansive comic sadness we associate with his beloved Chekhov. That Chekhovian sense of time fading even as we inhabit it thrums through both the talk and the silences."[30]

The Gabriels played an engagement at the Kennedy Center (Washington, DC) in January 2017[31] and then played at The Perth International Arts Festival (Australia) on February 11–18, and the Hong Kong Arts Festival on February 22–26. The original cast performed.[27]

The Michaels

In 2019 Nelson added to the Rhinebeck Panorama with The Michaels, which ran at the Public October 19 – December 1, 2019. As with the Apple and Gabriel family plays it takes place around a meal, this time in the kitchen of Rose Michael, a celebrated choreographer.

Nelson directed a cast made up of Charlotte Bydwell as Lucy Michael, Haviland Morris as Irenie Walker, Maryann Plunkett as Kate Harris, Matilda Sakamoto as May Smith, Jay O. Sanders as David Michael, Brenda Wehle as Rose Michael, and Rita Wolf as Sally Michael.

Awards and honors



Nelson's plays are published by Broadway Play Publishing Inc., Faber, & T C G.

Radio plays



  1. ^ Rich, Frank (29 April 1988). "In Trevor Nunn's Musical 'Chess', East Faces West Across a Board". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-02.
  2. ^ a b "Richard Nelson Biography (1950-)". Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  3. ^ John L. DiGaetani, ed. (1991). A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights. New York: Greenwood Press. pp. 237–44. ISBN 0313273642.
  4. ^ "Tony Award-Winning Playwright Richard Nelson to Lecture at Hamilton College" February 21, 2004
  5. ^ "'Two Shakespearean Actors' Listing" shakespearebirthplacetrust, accessed March 4, 2016
  6. ^ "'Misha's Party' Listing", accessed March 4, 2016
  7. ^ Herman, Jan. "A Big Problem : Playwright Richard Nelson, Whose Latest Work Is at SCR, Tends to Pen Unaffordable, Large-Scale Works" Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1996
  8. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Richard Nelson" Playbill, December 3, 2002
  9. ^ "'Goodnight Children Everywhere' 1997" shakespearebirthplacetrust, accessed March 4, 2016
  10. ^ a b "Richard Nelson", accessed March 4, 2016
  11. ^ Frank's Home, accessed April 13, 2016
  12. ^ Pippa, Cristina (February 2007). "Wrighting Home with Richard Nelson". The Brooklyn Rail.
  13. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (4 March 2005). "Richard Nelson Appointed New Playwriting Department Chair at Yale School of Drama". Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  14. ^ a b Stasio, Marilyn. "Review: ‘Sweet and Sad’" Variety, September 14, 2011
  15. ^ Sommer, Elyse. "A CurtainUp Review. 'That Hopey Changey Thing' "' CurtainUp, November 2, 2010
  16. ^ Brantley, Ben. "When Uncles (Ben, Sam) Need Help" The New York Times, November 8, 2012
  17. ^ Healy, Patrick (6 November 2013). "Hudson Valley Town Is A Playwright's Home and Template". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 November 2013.
  18. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Richard Nelson's Four-Play Series, 'The Apple Family Plays', Begins in Repertory at the Public Oct. 22" Playbill, October 22, 2013
  19. ^ " That Hopey Changey Thing 2010", accessed April 13, 2016
  20. ^ "Regular Singing 2013", accessed April 13, 2016
  21. ^ Rickwald, Bethany. "In Rehearsal for Richard Nelson's Hungry at the Public", February 18, 2016
  22. ^ Clement, Olivia. Richard Nelson Returns to The Public Tonight With Part Two of His Election Trilogy" Playbill, September 10, 2016
  23. ^ a b Gordon, David. "Review. 'What Did You Expect?'", September 19, 2016
  24. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Richard Nelson's Election Trilogy Opens Tonight" Playbill, March 4, 2016
  25. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Public Theater Opens Third and Final Play of 'The Gabriels' Tonight" Playbill, November 8, 2016
  26. ^ a b Women of a Certain Age, accessed November 9, 2016
  27. ^ a b Clement, Olivia. "The Public’s Election Trilogy to Tour D.C., Hong Kong, and Australia" Playbill, November 10, 2016
  28. ^ Scheck, Frank. "Review. 'Hungry'" The Hollywood Reporter, March 5, 2016
  29. ^ Paulson, Michael. "His Play Is Set on Election Night. He Still Hasn’t Finished It." The New York Times, November 8, 2016
  30. ^ Brantley, Ben. "Review: Election Night With the Gabriels, a Play in Real Time", The New York Times, November 9, 2016
  31. ^ " 'The Gabriels' Trilogy: Full-Day Marathon", retrieved January 8, 2018
  32. ^ "Richard Nelson", accessed March 4, 2016
  33. ^ The Vienna Notes, accessed March 4, 2016
  34. ^ Oxman, Steven. "Review: ‘Frank’s Home’" Variety, December 6, 2006
  35. ^ Bacalzo, Dan. "Review. 'Conversations in Tusculum' ", March 11, 2008
  36. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Richard Nelson’s 'Illyria' Opens Off-Broadway" Playbill, October 30, 2017
  37. ^ Hebert, James (7 February 2018). "With fresh look at 'Uncle Vanya,' Old Globe bringing something new to the conversation". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  38. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Richard Nelson's 'Uncle Vany'a Begins at the Hunter Theater Project September 7" Playbill, September 7, 2018
  39. ^ Sensibility and Sense, retrieved October 31, 2017
  40. ^ The End of a Sentence, retrieved October 31, 2017
  41. ^ Ethan Frome, retrieved October 31, 2017

Further reading