by Amy Freed
directed by Sharon Ott
originally produced at South Coast Repertory,
Costa Mesa, CA.
through January 25, 2009
Subsequent production at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Nero, the Emperor of Rome, has an epic public relations problem. He summons Scribonius, last of the great tragedians, to write a play that will turn public opinion in his favor when it is presented at the Neronia Festival of the Arts. Though Scribonius is terrified of displeasing the Emperor, who has the habit of torturing and/or killing anyone who makes that mistake, he recognizes the opportunity to use the power of art to turn Nero’s life around. As the two men work through each draft, Nero continually misinterprets Scribonius’ meanings, finding justifications for even more tyranny and murder. Scribonius’ last effort, having Nero play himself in the play, backfires completely. Intoxicated by his own performance, Nero decides he doesn’t need a playwright at all – he’s going to go onstage, unscripted, in the Neronia Festival himself. The Festival becomes a full-on rock concert featuring Nero’s confession of his crimes and the crowd’s willing, ecstatic forgiveness, followed by an “American Idol”-style competition that ends in a fire that consumes the auditorium. In the epilogue, an aged Scribonius reports that any mention of that night’s performance was suppressed, and that at the end of his life he is sealing up the true story for someone to discover in a future age.
Our belief in You, Nero’s potential is based on Amy’s stellar professional record, and on the responses of our colleagues from other theatres and the national press to the tremendously successful staged reading of You, Nero that we presented as the capstone of the Pacific Playwrights Festival this spring. Our upcoming world premiere of You, Nero is the result of Amy’s fourth commission from South Coast Repertory, making her one of a small handful of prominent playwrights to enjoy that extended relationship with our company. Her three previous SCR commissions resulted in very successful plays that premiered were: Freedomland in 1997, The Beard of Avon in 2001, and Safe in Hell in 2004. Her newest work, You, Nero is a rare hybrid – a brilliant comedy that seduces its audience into thinking deeply about the contemporary resonance in the story of Emperor Nero, all-powerful, narcissistic, and utterly entitled, who styled himself the arbiter of Art in the last years of his reckless and indulgent reign. This play imagines a meeting between the last humanist tragedian, the fictional Scribonius, and the first of the modern entertainment moguls, and the disastrous consequence of this patron-artist relationship.
Set Design:Erik Flatmo
Lighting Design:Peter Maradudin
Sound Design:Stephen LeGrand
Costume Design:Paloma Helena Young
In the press:
“Freed’s newest play, the SCR-commissioned You, Nero, which opens Saturday, may be her most super-sized to date.”
“Freed is a master of inside jokes about theater (there’s an uproarious bit about pornographic mimes).”
-The LA Times
“The program notes for the world premiere production of Amy Freed’s Roman farce You, Nero tell us that Freed had actor Danny Scheie in mind for the title role while she was writing it. And you can tell. Scheie’s Nero dominates, as well the crazed emperor should.”
- Talkin’ Broadway