University of Rochester

EVENT: Playing with Guillotines: Revolutionary Spirit Comes to a Head in International Theatre Program's Latest Production

November 24, 2009

Visiting director David Melville Kennedy brings the spirit of the French Revolution to life in an adaptation of Georg Büchner's classic and seldom performed drama, Danton's Death. Presented by the University of Rochester's International Theatre Program, the production explores the timeless need for political change, revolutionary action, and the sometimes perilous consequences of that change. Danton's Death opens Dec. 3 on the University's River Campus as part of Todd Theatre's 20th anniversary season.

A young doctor and radical activist, Büchner wrote Danton's Death in just five weeks in 1835. Büchner, who died two years later at the age of 23, proved to be hugely influential on 20th century playwrights and on dramatic movements as diverse as Naturalism and the Theater of the Absurd, although he completed only a small body of work. Büchner's oeuvre is considered by many to be the precursor to what we now consider "modern drama."

Robert Auletta's adaptation of Büchner's theatrical masterpiece depicts the downfall of Georges Danton, a dramatic figure of the French Revolution (indeed, one of the chief architects of the Reign of Terror) who would go on to oppose the Revolution's excesses and ultimately be destroyed by them. In 1992, Auletta translated and adapted Danton's Death, streamlining it while preserving its philosophical elements and power of emotional strength. Acclaimed for his own dramatic works, Auletta is a highly-regarded adapter of older works of drama, praised specifically for his ability to allow these plays to resonate with contemporary audiences. His 1993 adaptation of Aeschylus's The Persians (under the direction of acclaimed director Peter Sellars) was celebrated as an astute commentary on the Persian Gulf War.

The current production universalizes the themes of the play by modernizing the setting, transposing it to an old theater where students are in rehearsal for a production of the play. The production addresses itself to the youth of today, asking them what they might do if they found themselves in an analogous situation to Danton's.

Director David Melville Kennedy is the associate artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse, and until recently was associate artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center, in which capacity he directed David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross and Moliere's The Misanthrope. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, he also has taught at Georgia College and State University, Southern Methodist University, and Towson University. Kennedy is a former Phil Killian Fellow at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a Drama League Directing Fellow.

Scenic designer Andrew Boyce, a Kennedy Center ACTF Award and Donald Onslager Fellowship Award-Winner, designed the production's sets. Emily Rebholz designed costumes for this production as well as last season's You Can't Take It with You. Her extensive professional credits include Broke-ology and Clay (Lincoln Center); Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (Public Theatre); and Dance Dance Revolution (Les Frères Corbusier), among others. Lighting design for the production is by Matthew Richards whose New York credits include work at the Atlantic, Second Stage, Playwright's Horizons theatres, and the Manhattan Theater Club. Greg Hennigan is the sound designer and has created sound for the iPhone app "Twiddle", among other things. Steve Vaughan, whose fight choreography has been seen in numerous upstate New York venues, directed the fight scenes.

Danton's Death opens on Thursday, Dec. 3, and runs through Saturday, Dec. 12. Performances are at the Todd Theatre on the University of Rochester's River Campus. Tickets are $7 for students; $10 for UR alumni, faculty and staff, and for seniors (55 and over); and $13 for the general public. Tickets may be purchased online at, or by calling (585) 275-4088. Tickets also may be purchased an hour before each performance at the Box Office.