A ragtag troupe of actors heads West during the Gold Rush, seeking fortune and fame performing Shakespeare for enthusiastic '49ers. But with stiff competition, romantic entanglements, and an Indian Chief who seems himself in King Lear, their ambitious cross-country adventure is complicated by the teeming challenges and glories of the new American frontier.

Embracing the greatest elements of Shakespearean comedy and American vaudeville, this jubilant celebration of the human spirit is by Olivier and Tony Award-winner Richard Nelson (James Joyce's The Dead and Two Shakespearean Actors).


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  • RICHARD NELSON: An American Iconoclast

    Richard Nelson is one of a small number of playwrights who has made his living almost solely by writing plays (and occasionally directing), beginning in 1975 with his first professionally produced play, The Killing of Yablonski, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.


  • Richard Nelson: Master of Storytelling

    Richard Nelson is many things: a Tony, Olivier, and OBIE Award-winning playwright with a decades long career, a respected translator, a director, an associate artist at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the head of the M.F.A. playwriting program at Yale Drama School. After bringing us a haunting play with music, James Joyce’s The Dead, and a beautifully poignant and humorous translation of The Cherry Orchard, he returns to the Huntington this season with How Shakespeare Won the West, a taste of something very different. Artistic Associate M. Bevin O’Gara spoke with the writer about his love of actor history and the Boston University Theatre.


  • SHAKESPEARE IN THE STATES: The Bard Takes a Democratic Turn

    William Shakespeare was the most popular playwright in 19th-century America, 300 years after his plays first appeared onstage in England. His plays had been staged here as early as 1750, attracting broad audiences. European commentators as diverse as Alexis de Tocqueville and Oscar Wilde noted that the pioneers had volumes of Shakespeare and the King James Bible among their few precious books.


  • EUREKA! The Gold Rush is On: 1849-1864

    Picture this: a wagon train, full of healthy, strong, and virtuous pioneer families, snaking its way across sunny prairies en route to the West. This idealized image couldn’t be further from the serious dangers and harsh realities faced by the “Forty-Niners” during the California Gold Rush. The truth of those journeys is nearly too extreme to be believed but for the multiple accounts that the variety of ills met along the way.


Press Reviews

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    Shakespeare strikes gold! Huntington starts strong with tale of Wild West. Engaging, energetic, amusing, and clearly in love with the art of telling stories onstage, Richard Nelson's How Shakespeare Won the West makes an auspicious opening for the Huntington Theatre Company's first season under its new artistic director, Peter DuBois.” – The Boston Globe
    “Think Little Big Man meets the Bard and you'll have some idea of the narrative sweep, thematic reach, and whiz-bang theatricality surrounding Richard Nelson's How Shakespeare Won the West. Humorous and human. A theatrical feast. This play is a rollicking history lesson on American expansion, a celebration of this country's long love affair with Shakespeare, a chronicle of the can-do pioneering spirit, and a valentine to the transformative powers of the theatre.” – Variety
    "A good time, and that's what counts on an evening out!" – EDGE Boston
    "The actors are first-rate and most appealing!" – Patriot Ledger
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  • Theater's Journey Man

    From The Boston Globe, Sept. 5, 2008: "Tony Award-winning playwright Richard Nelson calls it his "darkish Valentine to theater." "How Shakespeare Won the West," set in 1849 in the middle of the California Gold Rush, follows a group of New York actors who hear of a small town out west where people are so starved for theater that they throw bags of gold at actors' feet. . . . "
  • LeBow, Fisher, Kissel, DeVries, Campbell, Coffey and More to Star in Nelson World Premiere

    From, Aug. 14, 2008: "Inspired by actual accounts, How Shakespeare Won the West, press notes state, 'tells the story of an eccentric but enterprising troupe of New York actors that travels west to attain fame and fortune by performing Shakespeare for entertainment-starved California ’49ers. Surprisingly stiff competition, complicated romantic entanglements, and Indian attacks make their cross-country adventure more than they bargained for.'"


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