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MONDAY, JANUARY 22, 2024 | 7:30 PM ET

Peter Jay Sharp Theater | 416 West 42nd Street
through SUNDAY, JANUARY 28 at 11:59 PM ET 



Featuring Christian Coulson, Merritt Janson, Ismenia Mendes, Matthew Rauch, John Douglas Thompson and Sarin Monae West.

Immensely popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, this pot-boiler tells a tale that Shakespeare audiences will recognize - a general and his new bride manipulated to tragic ends – but in the context of Spain’s conquests in North Africa. In this tale the revenger is the Moor-- Zanga, an enslaved prince--who wreaks righteous vengeance on his oppressor. The fiery Zanga, a favorite role of both Ira Aldridge and Edmund Kean, finally gets his return to the spotlight.

This reading is presented in partnership with the Mellon Foundation sponsored “On Decolonizing Theatre” Seminar at Northwestern University, and the R/18 Collective. 

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This event premiered live in-person from the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on Monday, January 22, 2024 at 7:30 PM ET. The recording was be available at 7:30 PM ET on Tuesday, January 23 until 11:59 PM ET on Sunday, January 28. Open Captions were available at 7:30 PM ET on Wednesday, January 23 until 11:59 PM ET on Sunday, January 28.



Zanga | John Douglas Thompson

Don Alonzo | Matthew Rauch

Leonora | Ismenia Mendes

Don Carlos | Christian Coulson

Isabella | Sarin Monae West

Don Manuel | Merritt Janson


Director | Nathan Winkelstein

Stage Manager | Jenn McNeil

Assistant Stage Manager | Jessica Fornear

Video Services | Merelis Productions

Scholar | Miles Grier

Production Assistant | Musa Gurnis

Producing Director | Nathan Winkelstein

General Manager | Sherri Kotimsky

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“To receive me hell blows all her fires”
TUESDAY, JANUARY 16, 2024 | 7:30 PM ET

An interactive discussion on Edward Young's The Revenge with Tracy C. Davis, Cornesha Tweede, Lisa Freeman, Amy Huang, Bridget Orr, and Red Bull Theater Executive Director Martin Giannini.

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BULL SESSION | The Revenge

Following the January 22 Revelation Reading | An interactive discussion of Edward Young's THE REVENGE and it's history and themes with director Nathan Winkelstein; scholar Miles Grier; Red Bull Theater Founder and Artistic Director Jesse Berger; and members of the company, Ismenia Mendes, Matthew Rauch, John Douglas Thompson.


“It is yet better in the closet than upon the Stage.” This ambiguous praise prefaces the 1792 edition of Edward Young’s 1721 tragedy, The Revenge. The play was never a popular sensation. It might disappear from the stage for a decade and subsequent revivals might include three performances in a season at most. Yet, it survived for over a hundred thirty years through print publication, private performance, and a series of male stars who found its hero a showcase for their virtuosity. Its ruthless protagonist, Zanga, became a byword for vengeance and the play remained in the repertoire long enough for British actors to bring it to the colonies and for a descendant of the enslaved to redeploy Zanga across Europe as a vehicle of artistic protest against chattel slavery.

Young’s explosive tragedy had an inauspicious debut: one documented performance at the royal patent theatre, Drury Lane, on April 18, 1721. The first recorded revival in 1732 was advertised as a performance “at the particular Desire of several Persons of Quality. Not Acted these Ten years.” Apparently, aristocrats had a particular taste for The Revenge, relying on print editions to keep the play alive in private reading and performance until it could be brought before the broader public for another trial. In the 1740s, the star James Quin added it to his repertoire. 


For the next hundred years, the play survived as an object of “particular desire” of a succession of actors: Henry Mossop, John Kemble, and Edmund Kean among them. These English men took star turns in the blacked-up role of Zanga, a Moor of royal birth, who is unable to conquer his captor, Don Alonzo of Spain and so plants the poisonous idea that the Spaniard’s new bride and best friend have cuckolded him. In Zanga’s closing address, he stands over Alonzo, celebrating the Spaniard’s suicide but lamenting that victory through intrigue has proven ignoble and unsatisfying. In 1805, an adolescent Lord Byron delivered this speech at Harrow School—perhaps as a kiss-off to faculty who had insulted him by calling him a blackguard. In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, Ira Aldridge, the Black New Yorker who made his career in England and throughout Europe transformed the role into an Abolitionist vehicle in full-scale productions and in solo recitals. Aldridge surely emphasized Zanga’s grievances: Don Alonzo’s murder of his father, the Spanish massacre of 10,000 Moors in battle, and one humiliating slap that cemented Zanga’s abject status. Aldridge’s revival of the role was already bucking a trend among critics who argued that the play survived because of playgoers’ fond memories of the luminaries who had played Zanga. With Aldridge’s demise, The Revenge lost its last champion among actors. Both actors and critics assessed the play as derivative of Othello and retired it from the repertoire. 

The Revenge owed its survival to Zanga, surely. One Philadelphia theatre critic referred to the “arduous character of Zanga,” opining that “[i]n the whole range of drama, we do not recollect a single part which requires more exertions in the representation.” Zanga arrives onstage loudly encouraging a storm to rage on. Yet the role does not consist solely of shouting at thunderclouds. Scholar Amy Huang detects the resonance of Zanga’s “whispered wrath and [unvoiced] resentment” as part of the play’s impact on spectators and its potential as a vehicle for Ira Aldridge. 


This Revelation Reading offers an opportunity to consider whether Zanga might be revived again to provide us something other than what Othello offers. We might also ask if there is more to recommend The Revenge than the vengeful Moor. For this reader, the remarkable feature is the male circle of love and commerce. In heightened language, the men of The Revenge declare their economic and affective vows to each other–creating a world in which women are as marginal in marriage as in military campaigns against the Moors. Zanga’s retribution requires that the Spanish men demonstrate an egregious obliviousness to his physical and psychological injuries and to the glaring misogyny in the code of honor they use to regulate women, sex, and marriage. The Revenge is potentially a story of the tragic consequences of overwhelming self-love between white men, and as much a vehicle for the women’s smoldering rage as for Zanga’s.


The son of a clergyman, Edward Young was born near Winchester, England in 1683. He attended Oxford University, where he honed his literary skills In the 1710s, he published a handful of poems seeking to obtain patronage from aristocrats and even the monarchy. After achieving his doctorate in canon law in 1719, he turned to drama and a new patron, the Duke of Wharton. Busiris, King of Egypt (1719) was successful enough that Drury Lane theatre committed to his next play, The Revenge (1721), which closed after a night. The insolvent Wharton’s promised donations came in below promised levels and income from plays proved insufficient. Young eventually obtained an appointment as a royal chaplain and published what was then a celebrated long poem, “Night-Thoughts,” published in installments from 1742 to 1745. The elegiac poem made him famous and earned translations in eleven other languages. Nevertheless, Zanga of The Revenge remains his best-known invention today. The dramatist and theatre critic Elizabeth Inchbald claims that, in Zanga, Young “surpassed the genius of Shakspeare [sic]—but immorally so—he has adorned malice and its kindred vices with a sentiment appropriate to the rarest virtue—scrupulous regard for unblemished honour.” 

- Miles Grier | Associate professor of English at CUNY

Funded by a Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar, the Northwestern multi-disciplinary project “On Decolonizing Theatre” features a series of events and curricular offerings during the 2023-2024 academic year on the theme of how performers and theater directors have been grappling with issues relating to colonialism, imperialism, racism, patriarchy, and misogyny in theatrical works from the late 17th through the early 19th century, including plays, operas, and ballets.
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The R/18 Collective was formed in 2019 to promote professional productions of plays drawn from the Restoration and eighteenth-century repertoire and to support performance research related to those productions. Composed of scholars from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, the Collective seeks both to cultivate strong, reciprocal relationships between scholars and theater artists and to increase awareness among theater audiences of the great riches embedded in dramatic works from this era. The R/18 Collective believe these plays provide urgently-needed insights into the formation of the modern world, including the historical development of our current ideas about race, gender, sexuality, nation, and capital. The R/18 Collective is committed to providing the dramaturgical knowledge and services of some of the world's top scholars in the field to theater companies interested in producing these works as well as to securing collaborative, international grants to support those productions and the related performance research.
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