Between Page and Stage: The Happy Medium for Romantic Drama

Drawing on three collaborations between New York City’s Red Bull Theater and the New York University Department of English—the staging of Lord Byron’s Sardanapalus (2012), Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound (2013), and Lord Byron’s Manfred (2017)—I argue that Romantic closet plays can benefit from a special kind of performance and performer: a staged reading by professional actors and directors. I contend that this type of performance offers what I call a happy medium: a compromise between a full staging and a private reading, which is suitable to the needs of this particular genre of minimal dramatic action, heightened poetic language, and metaphysical or “mental” subject matter. As a happy medium, the staged reading blurs the rigid binary between the stageable and the unstageable, permitting a means of bringing to performative light works typically limited to solitary or classroom reading practices. In addition, this type of performance provides a heuristic through which to explore the theatricality of these works, thereby carving out a new interpretive space for expanding our critical discourse on Romantic drama, theater, and performance.