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The Kentucky Cycle

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Written by
Robert Schenkkan

Original language

Robert Schenkkan



Date premiered

First performance


Pulitzer Prize for Drama

The Kentucky Cycle t3gstaticcomimagesqtbnANd9GcQWiM43Akg6U0mRGE

Place premiered
Intiman Theatre Seattle, Washington

An epic of three families spanning 200 years of American history, in Kentucky

Michael Rowen, J.T. Wells, Mary Anne Rowen

The Young Man from Atlanta, All the Way, The Shrike, The Teahouse of the Au, Abe Lincoln in Illinois

Talbert s monologue from the kentucky cycle

The Kentucky Cycle is a series of nine one-act plays by Robert Schenkkan that explores American mythology, particularly the mythology of the West, through the intertwined histories of three fictional families struggling over a portion of land in the Cumberland Plateau. The play won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.


The kentucky cycle

Production history

The Kentucky Cycle was the result of several years of development, starting in New York City at New Dramatists and the Ensemble Studio Theatre. The two-part, six-hour epic was further developed at the Taper Lab New Work Festival Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum and the Sundance Institute.

The complete cycle of short plays had its world premiere in June 1991 at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, Washington. It was produced as part of the Mark Taper Forum's 25th Anniversary Season on January 18, 1992.

The play was awarded the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the first time in the history of the award that a play was so honored which had not first been presented in New York City. (This feat would be repeated in 2003 with Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics. The Kentucky Cycle also won both the PEN Centre West and the 1993 L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.

In 1993 it was produced at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The play opened on Broadway on November 14, 1993 at the Royale Theatre and closed on December 12, 1993 after 33 performances and 15 previews. It was nominated for a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award, as well as three Tony Awards. Confronted by the massive Tony success of its Pulitzer successor, Tony Kushner's Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, the production failed to garner a single award.

The Broadway opening night cast included John Aylward, Lillian Garrett-Groag, Gail Grate, Katherine Hiler, Ronald Hippe, Gregory Itzin, Stacy Keach, Ronald William Lawrence, Scott MacDonald, Tuck Milligan, Randy Oglesby, Jeanne Paulson, Stephen Lee Anderson, Michael Hartman, Philip Lehl, Patrick Page, Susan Pellegrino, James Ragland, Jennifer Rohn, Novel Sholars, and Lee Simon, Jr. The director was Warner Shook.

The play generated controversy with some Kentucky writers that claimed it trafficked in stereotypes. Others lauded what they saw as the plays' honesty. In 2001, the play was directed in Eastern Kentucky by a native Kentuckian with a cast that included both local and out-of-state actors. It continues to be produced across the United States, and is published by Dramatists Play Service.

In other media

In 1995, it was announced that the cable network HBO would produce a miniseries of The Kentucky Cycle, with Kevin Costner to direct, star in and produce. In 1996, it was reported that Costner had another project and consequently HBO was looking for another director. In 2002, a article noted that the HBO mini-series still had not been made.

Play summaries

Source: Dramatists Play Service

Masters of the Trade (1775)
Michael Rowen deceives the Native Americans, gaining land and causing the tribe's death.
Courtship of Morning Star (1776)
Michael Rowen kidnaps and rapes Morning Star, producing a son, Patrick.
The Homecoming (1792)
Patrick Rowen kills both Michael Rowen and Joe Talbert and claims Rebecca Talbert as his wife, starting a cycle of revenge between the two families.
Ties That Bind (1819)
Patrick Rowen, deeply in debt, loses all he owns to the Talberts and becomes a sharecropper on his own land.
God's Great Supper (1861)
Jed Rowen recounts his haunting experiences in the Civil War, including his family's successful revenge against the Talberts as well as his encounters with William Clarke Quantrill.
Tall Tales (1890)
Working for the coal companies, a smooth-talking man named J.T. Wells swindles the Rowens out of their land.
Fire in the Hole (1920)
A union organizer attempts to rally Mary Anne Rowen's family and fellow miners into striking against the Blue Star Mining Company.
Which Side Are You On? (1954)
An underhanded deal between the union and the Blue Star Mining Company pits Joshua Rowen, James Talbert Winston, and Franklin Biggs against each other.
The War On Poverty (1975)
Three descendants of the Rowen, Talbert, and Biggs lines find something unexpected buried on the original Rowen homestead, shortly before they are to sell the land forever.

Critical response

Frank Rich, in his review for The New York Times, wrote that " 'The Kentucky Cycle' is best enjoyed as a melodramatic pageant, and an entertaining one until it turns pedagogical when its story reaches the 20th century early in Part 2."

This play has also been criticized, notably by University of Kentucky (and Appalachian native) Dwight Billings as perpetuating stereotypes of Appalachia, saying "On the one hand, its (Appalachia's) population has been represented as a cultural other, out of step with mainstream life. On the other hand, its economy has been pictured either as an empty space of backwardness waiting to be filled by capitalism, or, conversely, as a zone of total dependency and exploitation, a metaphor for all that is wrong with the American political economy." Either portrayal, Billings argues, are "essentialist" views that reduce the complexity of Appalachia and its people to a one-dimensional preconception.

Awards and nominations

Sources: Playbill Vault; Internet Broadway Database

  • 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
  • Nominations
  • 1994 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play
  • 1994 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play (Stacy Keach)
  • 1994 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play (Gregory Itzin)
  • 1994 Tony Award for Best Play
  • 1994 Tony Award for Featured Actor in a Play (Gregory Itzin)
  • 1994 Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Play (Jeanne Paulson)
  • Clarence Derwent Award for Most Promising Female Performer (Jeanne Paulson)
  • References

    The Kentucky Cycle Wikipedia

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