Theater Review: The Public Theater Stages Its Own Origin Story

Onstage at the Public, play about the Public: Illyria. Photo: Joan Marcus As the lights in the Public’s Anspacher Theatre began to dim at the start of Illyria — Nelson’s searching, anti-theatrical ode to theater—the opening chords of The Decemberists’ “ Beginning Song” filled the space and my heart gave little jump. The Decemberists are Portland- alt-folk-rock band whose lush, hyper-articulate storytelling songs changed 17-year-old Sara’s life forever: if you’re in your early thirties and an indie fan, chances are you’ll catch some serious feelings when Colin Meloy’s voice comes over the . Watching the company of Illyria move through the -light—arranging furniture, rolling out rugs, and setting up their playing space with an unhurried, cooperative sense of calm—I was catching those feelings (and the play hadn’t even really begun). I also couldn’t help wonder: Why this very contemporary—as much as I hate to say it, millennial, even—song to begin a story set half a century ago? That story is, to put it mildly, close to . Nelson—who has directed his own play with the unobtrusive touch of a documentary filmmaker—has created a kind of 50th-birthday present for the theater where he’s made a […]

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