Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Little Bit About My New Play, Nero/Pseudo

The new play that I've been working on since July 2009 --called Nero/Pseudo -- is finally ready for people to read. Which is exciting. The first draft was finished this past summer, then it got a ruthless rewrite or two -- the last one thanks to some very perceptive comments by DC playwright Jim McNeill and actor/director Gwen Grastorf.

I went back into my notebooks to try and trace down just what the original impetus for Nero/Pseudo was. I remember it being a very hot summer day, and I sought refuge in the cool darkness of the bedroom and started reading a copy of Tacitus' Histories -- his account of 69 AD, the so-called "Year of Four Emperors" which kicked off with Nero's suicide and ended only with Vespasian's triumphant return to Rome.

I had only gotten to early in the second book of the volume when I came across this passage:

About this time Achaia and Asia were thrown into a groundless panic by a rumor that "Nero was at hand." The accounts of his death being many and various, people were all the more inclined to allege and to believe that he was still alive. I shall mention in the course of this work the attempts and the fate of the other pretenders. This time it was a slave from Pontus, or, according to other traditions, a freedman from Italy. His skill as a singer and harpist combined with his facial resemblance to Nero, gave him some credentials for imposture.

The passage startled me. It was a story only half-remembered. I recall thinking about it for a few minutes, getting up, Googling it a bit, finding out that there had been two or three such pretenders (scholars differ) and then grabbing my notebook and writing (as I look at it again now):

Play about first Pseudo-Nero.

A bunch of other thoughts flooded the page, and then the first title:

The Return of the Exalted Emperor Nero, Confounding Reports Erroneous of Unfortunate Demise

It took me five years to get the last play I wrote, Burn Your Bookes, from my head to the 2007 Prague Playwriting Festival to the Kennedy Center to Taffety Punk's amazing production at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop this past April. But I learned a lot from that experience, and I've accelerated my process of researching, outlining and writing. I've also become smarter about my own work habits as a playwright.

So now that it's done, I'm starting to look for a home for Nero/Pseudo. Getting in it the hands of various folks, trying to obtain opinions and critiques and (hopefully)to generate some interest in a production. Part of that process is writing a succinct synopsis, which I'm inserting at the end of this post. As you'll see, the play has its roots in history, but it's not a period piece.

Interested in reading it? Let me know in the comments or by email if the synopsis intrigues you:

Nero/Pseudo: A Synopsis

A naked fake emperor. Glam rock. A head in a box. That's Nero/Pseudo -- a new play by Richard Byrne.

Nero/Pseudo takes its inspiration from a passage in Tacitus' Histories, in which a man with an uncanny physical resemblance to the emperor Nero (and skill in playing the lyre) took Greece by storm a few months after the real Nero's suicide in 69 AD. Not only did the fake Nero cause mass tumult before he was captured and executed -- but the notion that Nero might actually return to rule again was fuel for apocalyptic writers in Jewish and Christian sects of that era (including The Book of Revelation).

But Nero/Pseudo isn't a period piece. Byrne mashes up classical literature with glam rock, political cults of celebrity, a healthy dollop of sex and a newly-imagined version of Nero's famous poem on the Fall of Troy. All but three lines of the original Nero poem have been lost, so the playwright's new version casts as much an eye on contemporary politics as it does on Trojans and Greeks.

Nero/Pseudo requires a minimum of six (6) actors. 

No comments: