Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne

I write plays. About alchemy (Burn Your Bookes). Long-forgotten connections between anti-fascists and the Beat Generation (Three Suitcases). Mash-ups of glam rock and classical history (Nero/Pseudo). Sex & surveillance in DC (OBE). The ebullient and catastrophic misadventures of the world's first celebrity politician (An Evening with Lola Montez). I've had work produced in Prague and in Washington...
I write plays. About alchemy (Burn Your Bookes). Long-forgotten connections between anti-fascists and the Beat Generation (Three Suitcases). Mash-ups of glam rock and classical history (Nero/Pseudo). Sex & surveillance in DC (OBE). The ebullient and catastrophic misadventures of the world's first celebrity politician (An Evening with Lola Montez). I've had work produced in Prague and in Washington, DC.

I have an MFA in Playwriting and Poetry from Washington University in St. Louis. I won the 2007 Prague Post Playwriting Festival and the inaugural A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival at Washington University in 1989. My play, Three Suitcases, was a semifinalist in the 2019 O'Neill Playwrights Conference.

I am also an editor, journalist, and essayist. My work has appeared in The Washington Post, Time, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, The Nation, The New Republic, The American Prospect, BookForum, New York Press, and New York Magazine. I've also written liner notes for classic records by Uncle Tupelo (No Depression; Anodyne) and R.E.M. (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)

Plays

  • Three Suitcases
    True story: In 1937, long before his fame as a writer, future Beat Generation icon William Burroughs (then 23 years-old) met a German Jewish woman named Ilse Klapper Herzfeld (who was 37 years old at the time) in Dubrovnik. A year later, they were married.

    Ilse Burroughs received a visa from this marriage which allowed her to avoid repatriation from Yugoslavia to Nazi Germany. She arrived in New...
    True story: In 1937, long before his fame as a writer, future Beat Generation icon William Burroughs (then 23 years-old) met a German Jewish woman named Ilse Klapper Herzfeld (who was 37 years old at the time) in Dubrovnik. A year later, they were married.

    Ilse Burroughs received a visa from this marriage which allowed her to avoid repatriation from Yugoslavia to Nazi Germany. She arrived in New York in 1939 and was hired as a secretary by exiled anti-fascist German writer and activist Ernst Toller.

    Toller was a poet and World War I veteran who came to wider notice in 1919 as a leader of the short-lived Räterepublik in Munich. Like the similar uprising in Berlin by Spartacists earlier the same year (led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg), the revolutionary government in Bavaria was brutally supressed in two months. Toller was sentenced to five years in prison.

    The plays and poems Toller wrote in jail -- including a play that prophesied the rise of Hitler -- made him an international luminary during his imprisonment and after his release. He was public enemy number one to the Nazi regime when it took power in 1933. His apartment in Berlin was raided by the Nazis in the first waves of arrests shortly after the Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933.

    Toller was in Switzerland when the Nazis came for him. He never returned to Germany. His books were burned in the fires Goebbels lit on the Opernplatz in May 1933. As an exile, in Britain and the United States, Toller became one of the leading figures in anti-fascist resistance. He gave speeches, wrote articles, raised money for the hungry in Spain. He even wrote film scripts in Hollywood.

    Richard Byrne’s new play Three Suitcases imagines a collision between these three travelers in the Mayflower Hotel in 1939.

    It asks hard questions about the artist's role in politics. Can a writer change the world with words? Or should the author stand apart from levers of power?

    The world of Three Suitcases is not far from our own. It's a landscape of political refugees and exiles, growing fascism, and relentless attempts to erase and rewrite history.

    http://www.richardbyrneplays.com/three-suitcases
  • An Evening with Lola Montez
    Love. Lies. Riots. Revolution. Spend the night with a firebrand.

    The story of Lola Montez has been told many times. Her biographers have been bedeviled by the legends and the fabrications attached to the story -- many of them concocted by Lola herself as she transformed herself from fallen woman to international sensation.

    But what did Lola herself have to say? An Evening with...
    Love. Lies. Riots. Revolution. Spend the night with a firebrand.

    The story of Lola Montez has been told many times. Her biographers have been bedeviled by the legends and the fabrications attached to the story -- many of them concocted by Lola herself as she transformed herself from fallen woman to international sensation.

    But what did Lola herself have to say? An Evening with Lola Montez draws upon lectures that Lola Montez gave in the last years of her life. Hear the story as Lola wanted it told!

    "An Evening With Lola Montez is one of the most fascinating Fringe shows I've seen..." -- Broadway World DC
  • Nero/Pseudo
    Nero's dead, right? Or perhaps his biggest fans won't let Rome's cruel but entertaining emperor exit the stage just yet. Nero/Pseudo is a play where a strangely improbable but true tale of imperial impersonation from ancient Rome and Greece (ripped from the pages of Tacitus, Suetonius, and other chroniclers) collides with the glitter and bombast of glam rock.

    Nero/Pseudo features...
    Nero's dead, right? Or perhaps his biggest fans won't let Rome's cruel but entertaining emperor exit the stage just yet. Nero/Pseudo is a play where a strangely improbable but true tale of imperial impersonation from ancient Rome and Greece (ripped from the pages of Tacitus, Suetonius, and other chroniclers) collides with the glitter and bombast of glam rock.

    Nero/Pseudo features 10 glam rock songs written in collaboration with acclaimed songwriters Jon Langford (Mekons, Three Johns, Waco Brothers, Skull Orchard) and Jim Elkington (Tweedy, The Zincs, Horse's Ha).

    "There are plenty of reasons to check out this bona-fide hit musical, from the pen of Richard Byrne." -- Broadway World

    "... a fun romp that effortlessly links ancient themes of imperial deification and the twentieth century cult of rock and roll." -- MD Theatre Guide

    Demo versions of songs and score available upon request.
  • Burn Your Bookes: An Alchemical Triptych
    Renaissance alchemy. The price of knowledge. The power of poetry. Burn Your Bookes retells the magical, strange, and sordid tale of Edward Kelley (medium and alchemist to Hapsburg Emperor Rudolph II) and his step-daughter Elizabeth Jane Weston -- one of the few women poets of the 16th Century.

    Burn Your Bookes weaves the legends surrounding Kelley -- necromancy, wife-swapping, falsifying...
    Renaissance alchemy. The price of knowledge. The power of poetry. Burn Your Bookes retells the magical, strange, and sordid tale of Edward Kelley (medium and alchemist to Hapsburg Emperor Rudolph II) and his step-daughter Elizabeth Jane Weston -- one of the few women poets of the 16th Century.

    Burn Your Bookes weaves the legends surrounding Kelley -- necromancy, wife-swapping, falsifying transmutation -- into a vibrant and human account of his dizzying rise and fall, and how his daughter Elizabeth Jane Weston fought to save his legacy with her poetry.

    In its initial one act version, Burn Your Bookes won first prize in the 2007 Prague Post Playwriting Festival and received a full production at the Divadlo Minor in Prague. This version also received a staged reading by Taffety Punk Theatre Company at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts as part of the 2009 Page-to-Stage Festival.

    The full length version of Burn Your Bookes received its world premiere by Taffety Punk Theatre Company at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop in Washington DC in April 2010.

    "Four centuries later, Kelley remains a mysterious and paradoxical figure, nut thanks to an enterprising playwright he may finally have struck gold." -- Folger Magazine

    "There is much to admire in Byrne’s pseudo-fictional narrative..." -- DC Theatre Scene
  • OBE (Overcome by Events)
    Deep State vs. Fourth Estate. OBE (Overcome by Events) is a new play by Richard Byrne.

    How far would you go to spill a dark secret – or to keep it? OBE (Overcome by Events) is set in Washington DC in a sizzling summer heat wave. The play traces the mad scramble that ensues when a whistleblower rips the lid off an intelligence scandal that’s perfect fodder for the 24-hour news cycle. Will...
    Deep State vs. Fourth Estate. OBE (Overcome by Events) is a new play by Richard Byrne.

    How far would you go to spill a dark secret – or to keep it? OBE (Overcome by Events) is set in Washington DC in a sizzling summer heat wave. The play traces the mad scramble that ensues when a whistleblower rips the lid off an intelligence scandal that’s perfect fodder for the 24-hour news cycle. Will journalists who get to the bottom of the story? Or will the bureaucrats and spin doctors manage to cover it up? And at what price to privacy and the Constitution?

    OBE has 8 characters (4 women, 4 men) and is 100 pages. (Approximately 93 minutes.)