The Kentucky Cycle

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The Kentucky Cycle
Written by Robert Schenkkan
Date premiered 1991
Place premiered Intiman Theatre
Seattle, Washington
Original language English
Subject a sweeping epic of three families in spanning 200 years of American history
Genre Drama
Setting Kentucky, 1775-1975
IBDB profile

The Kentucky Cycle is a series of nine one-act plays by Robert Schenkkan that explores American mythology, particularly the mythology of the West, through the intertwined histories of three fictional families struggling over a portion of land in the Cumberland Plateau. The Kentucky Cycle was the result of several years of development, starting in New York City at New Dramatists and the Ensemble Studio Theatre. The two part, six hour epic was later workshopped at the Mark Taper Forum, EST-LA, the Long Wharf Theatre, and the Sundance Institute. The complete cycle of short plays had its world premiere in 1991 at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, Washington. In 1992, it appeared as part of the Mark Taper Forum's 25th Anniversary Season.[1]

It was awarded the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the first time in the history of the award that a play was so honored which had not first been presented in New York City. This feat would be repeated in 2003 with Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics. The Kentucky Cycle also won both the PEN Centre West and the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards for Best Play. In 1993 it appeared at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and opened on Broadway in November of that same year where it was nominated for a Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards.+ The play was produced on Broadway in 1993 and was nominated for several Tony awards, though, confronted by the massive Tony success of its Pulitzer successor, Tony Kushner's Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, the production failed to garner a single award.

The opening night cast included John Aylward, Lillian Garrett-Groag, Gail Grate, Katherine Hiler, Ronald Hippe, Gregory Itzin, Stacy Keach, Ronald William Lawrence, Scott MacDonald, Tuck Milligan, Randy Oglesby, Jeanne Paulson, Stephen Lee Anderson, Michael Hartman, Philip Lehl, Patrick Page, Susan Pellegrino, James Ragland, Jennifer Rohn, Novel Sholars, and Lee Simon, Jr.

The play also generated controversy with some Kentucky writers that claimed it trafficked in stereotypes. Others lauded what they saw as the plays' honesty. In 2001, the play was directed in Eastern Kentucky by a native Kentuckian with a cast that included both local and out-of-state actors.[citation needed] It continues to be produced across the United States, and is published by Dramatists Play Service.

The Kentucky Cycle's film and television rights are held by actor Kevin Costner.[citation needed]

Play summaries[edit]

Masters of the Trade
Michael Rowen deceives the Native Americans, gaining land and causing the tribe's death.
Courtship of Morning Star
Michael Rowen kidnaps and rapes Morning Star, producing a son, Patrick.
The Homecoming
Patrick Rowen kills Joe Talbert and claims Rebecca Talbert as his wife, starting a cycle of revenge between the two families.
Ties That Bind
Patrick Rowen, deeply in debt, loses all he owns to the Talberts and becomes a sharecropper on his own land.
God's Great Supper
Jed Rowen recounts his haunting experiences in the Civil War, including his family's successful revenge against the Talberts as well as his encounters with William Clarke Quantrill.
Tall Tales
Working for the coal companies, a smooth-talking man named J.T. Wells swindles the Rowens out of their land.
Fire in the Hole
A union organizer attempts to rally Mary Anne Rowen's family and fellow miners into striking against the Blue Star Mining Company.
Which Side Are You On?
An underhanded deal between the union and the Blue Star Mining Company pits Joshua Rowen, James Talbert Winston, and Franklin Biggs against each other.
The War On Poverty
Three descendants of the Rowen, Talbert, and Biggs lines find something unexpected buried on the original Rowen homestead, shortly before they are to sell the land forever.

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
  • 1994 Drama Desk Award for Best Revival of a Play
  • 1994 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play


  1. ^ Mark Taper Forum Production History (.DOC). Center Theatre Group. 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Schenkkan, Robert (1993). The Kentucky Cycle (First ed.). New York: Plume. ISBN 0-452-26967-9. 

External links[edit]