Richard Nelson (playwright)

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Richard Nelson
Born Richard John Nelson
(1950-10-17) October 17, 1950 (age 65)
Chicago, Illinois
Alma mater Hamilton College (1972)
Clinton, New York
Notable work(s)
Awards Obie Award, Rockefeller Playwright-in-Residence Award, Giles Cooper Award, Tony Award, Olivier Award, Drama Desk Award, PEN/Laura Pels Award

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, the Broadway version of Chess, as well as the critically acclaimed play cycle The Apple Family Plays.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Nelson was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Viola (née Gabriel), 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 married Cynthia Blair Bacon on May 21, 1972; they have two daughters, Zoe (b. 1983) and Jocelyn (b. 1988).[2]


in November of 2006, Frank's Home, about two days in the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, premiered in Chicago, Mr. Nelson's home town, at the Goodman Theatre (in association with Playwrights Horizons). In an interview in The Brooklyn Rail at the time of its NY 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."[4] From 2005-2008, Nelson was the chair of the playwriting department at the Yale School of Drama.[5]

The Apple Family plays[edit]

From 2010 to 2013, Nelson wrote and directed four plays centered around the Apple Family, a fictional household set in Rhinebeck, NY with each play focused on either an election or a significant historical anniversary. The first play in the series, That Hopey Changey Thing, focused on the 2010 midterm elections (opening on election night), the second play, Sweet and Sad, depicts the family on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The third play, Sorry opened and takes place on the 2012 presidential election, and the final play, Regular Singing is set on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Each play debuted at The Public Theatre, featuring the same cast members in each subsequent production.[6]




  • The Killing of Yablonski, Los Angeles, Mark Taper Forum/Lab, 1975
  • Conjuring An Event, Los Angeles, Mark Taper Forum/ Lab, 1976
  • Scooping, Washington, D.C., Arena Stage, 4 February 1977
  • Jungle Coup, New York, Playwrights Horizons, 22 June 1978
  • The Vienna Notes, Minneapolis, Minn., The Tyrone Guthrie Theater, 6 October 1978
  • Bal, Williamstown, Mass., Williamstown Theatre Festival, July 1979
  • Rip Van Winkle, or The Works, New Haven, Conn., Yale Repertory Theatre, 4 December 1981
  • The Return of Pinocchio, Seattle, Washington, Empty Space, March 1983
  • An American Comedy, Los Angeles, Mark Taper Forum, 13 October 1983
  • Between East and West, Seattle, Wash., Seattle Repertory Theatre, 23 March 1984
  • Principia Scriptoriae, New York, Manhattan Theatre Club, 25 March 1986
  • Chess (bookwriter), New York, Imperial Theatre, 28 April 1988
  • Roots in Water, Woodstock, N.Y., River Arts Repertory, Summer 1988
  • Some Americans Abroad, Stratford-upon-Avon, Royal Shakespeare Company, 19 July 1989
  • Two Shakespearean Actors, Stratford-upon-Avon, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1990
  • Columbus and the Discovery of Japan, London, Royal Shakespeare Company, 22 July 1992
  • Misha's Party, (with Alexander Gelman), London, Royal Shakespeare Company, 21 July 1993
  • Life Sentences, New York, Second Stage Theatre, 1 December 1993
  • New England, London, Royal Shakespeare Company, 29 November 1994
  • The General from America, Stratford-upon-Avon, Royal Shakespeare Company, 17 July 1996
  • Kenneth's Play, (with Colin Chambers), London, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1997
  • Goodnight Children Everywhere, Stratford-upon-Avon, Royal Shakespeare Company, 11 December 1997
  • James Joyce's The Dead, (with Shaun Davey), New York, Playwrights Horizons, 28 October 1999
  • Madame Melville, London, Vaudeville Theatre, 18 October 2000
  • Franny's Way, New York, Playwrights Horizons, 27 March 2002
  • My Life with Albertine, New York, Playwrights Horizons, 13 March 2003
  • Rodney's Wife, Williamstown, Mass., Williamstown Theatre Festival, 7 July 2004
  • The Seagull (adaption of Anton Chekhov)
  • The Suicide (adaption of Nikolai Erdman)
  • Three Sisters (adaptation of Anton Chekhov)
  • The Wood Demon (adaptation of Anton Chekhov)
  • Conversations in Tusculum, The Public Theatre, March 2008
  • That Hopey Changey Thing, The Public Theatre, November 2010
  • Sweet and Sad, The Public Theatre, September 2011
  • Sorry, The Public Theatre, November 2012
  • Nikolai and the Others, Lincoln Center Theater, May 2013
  • Regular Singing, The Public Theatre, November 2013

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

Radio plays[edit]


  • Terror in the Sky, television, (with Elinor and Stephen Karpf), CBS, 1971
  • Houston, We've Got a Problem, television, ABC, 1974
  • Sensibility and Sense, television, American Playhouse, PBS, 1990
  • The End of a Sentence, television, American Playhouse, PBS, 1991
  • Ethan Frome, film, adapted from the novel by Edith Wharton, Miramax, 1993
  • Roots in Water, 2011
  • Hyde Park on Hudson, film, Daybreak Pictures, 2012


  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. ^ Pippa, Cristina (February 2007). "Wrighting Home with Richard Nelson". The Brooklyn Rail. 
  5. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (4 March 2005). "Richard Nelson Appointed New Playwriting Department Chair at Yale School of Drama". Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  6. ^ Healy, Patrick (6 November 2013). "Hudson Valley Town Is A Playwright's Home and Template". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 

Additional reading[edit]

  • Andreach, Robert J. (1995). "Creating a Self, Personal and National, in Richard Nelson's Trilogy". University of Mississippi Studies in English: 329–343. 
  • Berc, Shelley; Rick Davis; Joel Schechter (1982). "Rip Van Winkle Our Contemporary: An Interview with Richard Nelson" (PDF). Theater 13 (2): 4–8. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  • Brown, Blair (2000). "The Tapestry of Living". American Theatre 17 (September): 50. 
  • Gholson, Craig (1990). "Richard Nelson". BOMB 32: 46–49. 

External links[edit]