Columbus and the Discovery of Japan

Richard Nelson
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On the deck of his flagship, the expedition commander addresses his men, his voice rising in stirring peroration: “Let us all be new men! Born today! This minute! And with only one purpose in mind! To push forward to triumph! To push forward — to Japan!” That Columbus had a clearer sense of destiny than destination is, even without the facile irony of hindsight, emblematic of the confusion of motives and expectations that inspired him and his companions to undertake their epoch-making voyage. An intimate drama of epic events.

Production Info

Cast: 18 total (2 female, 16 male)
Full Length Drama (about 210 minutes)
Minimal Set Requirements
Period Costumes

Press Quotes

“Dramatising first the struggle to find financial backing for his first expedition and then the chequered voyage itself, the play presents us with Columbus the likeable con-artist, a man of dubious background, snobbish aspirations, and next to no experience as a mariner. Capable of comic descents into pettiness and cowardice, he is a flawed visionary who manages to capture public interest in his mad schemes.” —Paul Taylor, The Independent (London)

“An ironic epic: a wry, intelligent and fascinating account of the way the New World was opened up by a routeless chancer from the Old.” —Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Hooray and hallelujah: we have for the first time in almost a decade a major new play on the main stage of the Barbican. As its title would suggest, it subscribes to the theory of history as a series of misadventures turned lucky. Nelson’s Columbus is neither the hero of the old history books nor the colonialist villain of modern political correctness.” —Sheridan Morley, International Herald Tribune

About the Author


  • Richard Nelson

    Richard Nelson's plays include the four-play series, THE APPLE FAMILY (THAT HOPEY CHANGEY THING, SWEET AND SAD, SORRY, REGULAR SINGING (Nominated for Outstanding Play in Drama Desk Awards 2014; Public Theater, 2010 – 2013), NIKOLAI AND THE OTHERS (Lincoln Center Theater, 2013), FAREWELL TO THE THEATRE (Hampstead Theatre, 2012), HOW SHAKESPEARE WON THE WEST, (Huntington Theater, 2008), CONVERSATIONS AT TUSCULUM (Public Theater, 2008), FRANK'S HOME (Goodman Chicago, Playwrights Horizons, 2007), RODNEY'S WIFE (Playwrights Horizons, 2004), WHERE I COME FROM (National Theatre Connections), MADAME MELVILLE (which ran in the West End starring Macaulay Culkin and Irene Jacob and opened in May 2001 Off-Broadway); GOODNIGHT CHILDREN EVERYWHERE (winner of Olivier Award for Best New Play, 2000), KENNETH'S FIRST PLAY (with Colin Chambers, RSC), THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA (at the RSC and the Lucille Lortel Theatre, New York), NEW ENGLAND (RSC and Manhattan Theater Club), MISHA'S PARTY (with Alexander Gelman, RSC and Williamstown Theater Festival), TWO SHAKESPEAREAN ACTORS (Tony nomination for Best Play, RSC and Broadway), COLUMBUS AND THE DISCOVERY OF JAPAN (RSC Barbican), SOME AMERICANS ABROAD (Olivier nomination, Best Comedy; RSC, Lincoln Center and Broadway), LEFT, BETWEEN EAST AND WEST (Hampstead), PRINCIPIA SCRIPTORAE (winner of Time Out Award, RSC and Manhattan Theater Club), THE RETURN OF PINOCCHIO, AN AMERICAN COMEDY, BAL, CONJURING AN EVENT, RIP VAN WINKLE, JUNGLE COUP, THE KILLING OF YABLONSKI, THE VIENNA NOTES (Obie Award). His musicals include JAMES JOYCE'S THE DEAD (starring Christopher Walken and Blair Brown; Playwrights Horizons, Belasco Theatre, Broadway, Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, Kennedy Center, Washington; for which he received a Tony Award in 2000 for Best Musical Book), CHESS (the book for the Broadway musical), PARADISE FOUND (dir: Harold Prince and Susan Strohman), MY LIFE WITH ALBERTINE (with Ricky Ian Gordon; Playwrights Horizons), UNFINISHED PIECE FOR A PLAYER PIANO (with Peter Golub). His translations and adaptations include TYNAN starring Corin Redgrave (with Colin Chambers, RSC and West End), LOLITA with Brian Cox (National), Molnar's THE GUARDSMAN (Kennedy Center), Carriere's THE CONTROVERSY (Public Theater), Fo's ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST (Broadway), Strindberg's THE FATHER with Frank Langella (Broadway) and MISS JULIE (Yale Rep), Beaumarchais' THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO (the Guthrie and Broadway); Molière's DON JUAN, Ibsen's WILD DUCK and ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, Pirandello's ENRICO IV, Goldoni's IL CAMPIELLO, Erdmann's THE SUICIDE. With the esteemed translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, he was co-translated Chekhov's THE CHERRY ORCHARD, Gogol's THE INSPECTOR, Turgenev's A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY and Bulgakov's DON QUIXOTE. Films: Hyde Park on Hudson, staring Bill Murray and Laura Linney (Dir: Roger Michell), Ethan Frome, starring Liam Neeson (Dir: John Madden); Sensibility and Sense, staring Elaine Stritch and Jean Simmons (Dir: David Jones). Television: The End of a Sentence with Edward Herrmann (Dir: David Jones). Radio Plays include: HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, LANGUAGES SPOKEN HERE (Giles Cooper Award), EATING WORDS (Giles Cooper Award), ADVICE TO EASTERN EUROPE, AN AMERICAN WIFE (all BBC).

About the Book

Book Information

Publisher BPPI
Publication Date 12/20/2018
Pages 100
ISBN 9780881457995

Special Notes

Special Notes

Licensees are required to include the original stage producers credits in the following form on the title page in all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play and in all advertising in which the full cast appears in size of type not less than ten percent (10%) of the size of the title of the Play:

World premiere by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre on 22 July 1992

The following must appear within all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play:
Columbus and the Discovery of Japan is produced
by special arrangement with Broadway Play Publishing Inc, NYC