Introducing Cardenio

Charles Mee and Stephen Greenblatt first gave us a copy of Cardenio several years ago. We’ve been longing to produce it ever since, but the performance rights were tied up by a Broadway producer. At last they’re available, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the production was worth waiting for.

Chuck and Stephen, among America’s most respected playwrights and distinguished Shakespeare scholars respectively, have both been good friends of the A.R.T. for many years. We’ve produced many of Chuck’s plays, including Full Circle, Snow in June, and bobrauschenbergamerica, and Stephen – a senior professor in Harvard’s English department – has often contributed to our program notes, newsletter essays, and discussion groups. The idea of a collaboration between these two titans was too good to pass up, and it’s exciting that we’re producing the American premiere of this major new play.

The two authors first met at Bellagio on Lake Como, where they were both recipients of Rockefeller fellowships. The collaboration was born when Stephen told Chuck of a late Shakespeare play, Cardenio, which only survives in a handful of fragments. The story comes from an episode in Cervantes’ Don Quixote which contains many of the hallmarks of Shakespearian comedy. Chuck was fascinated, and the two of them set out to weave a contemporary play based on the original story, and incorporating the fragments which remain.

The project was certain to appeal to Chuck, whose plays are almost all freewheeling imaginative adaptations of existing texts. On his website, the (re)making project, he even invites other writers to create their own versions of his plays – and indeed the same principal has been applied to Cardenio, which has been rewritten and produced by playwrights in Russia, Japan, India, and Croatia.

The play, in Chuck and Stephen’s version, is set on the terrace of a contemporary Umbrian villa, where a group of young Americans have gathered to celebrate a wedding. It’s a beguiling midsummer pageant, infused with the spirit of Shakespearian comedy, that will provide a warm and festive note to the end of our season. Les Waters, a long-time collaborator of Chuck’s, will direct. The script will continue to evolve over the coming months, and we’ll share more information about the play with you as it takes its final shape.

– Gideon Lester

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