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William Saroyan International Prize for Writing

Adam Rapp, Nocturne

About the Author

Adam Rapp

At 34, Mr. Rapp embodies in many ways that classic New York archetype: a writer on the cusp, a prolific young playwright who seemingly spends every waking hour hacking away at his computer in his East Village apartment, trying to perfect his voice and pay the rent. When he's not writing, he's at the theater, tending bar and listening in to the audiences' instant critiques.

A prolific reader and writer who came to both habits well after puberty, Mr. Rapp tells stories that encase classical themes -- class and envy, ambition and alienation -- in blunt terms and in modern settings. (The New York Times, May 14, 2003)

Adam Rapp has been the recipient of the 1997 Herbert & Patricia Brodkin Scholarship; a fellowship to the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France; two Lincoln Center Lecomte du Nouy Awards; the 1999 Princess Grace Award for Playwriting; a 2000 Roger L. Stevens Award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays; a 2000 Suite Residency with Mabou Mines; and the 2001 Helen Merrill Award. His plays have been produced at Victory Gardens in Chicago, The 24th Street Theatre in Los Angeles, The Juilliard School, The American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Berkeley Repertory, New York Theatre Workshop, and the Bush Theatre in London. A graduate of Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa, he also completed the Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting Fellowship at Juillard. Nocturne was awarded Boston's Elliott Norton Award for Best New Script as well as Best New Play by the Independent Reviewers of New England. It was chosen as one of the ten Best Plays of 2000-2001 (the annual Chronicle of U.S. theater). Rapp is also the author of the novels Missing the Piano, The Buffalo Tree, and The Copper Elephant. He lives in New York City. (Adam Rapp, Nocturne. New York, Faber and Faber 2002)

Critics / Reviews

"'There's a finality in fact,' says the narrator of Adam Rapp's grief-laden monologue Nocturne, a stunning confrontation with truth that spares neither the character or the audience. The fact, simply stated, is this: "Fifteen years ago I killed my sister." So says a young man identified only as the Son, who accidentally decapitates his sibling in an auto accident and then attempts to come to terms with what he has done. This reconciliation forms the heart and soul of Nocturne, a startling, unnerving work of art that fiercely pushes the boundaries of theater. The dense, almost novelistic, in its approach to a personal horror story. Nocturne is also intensely lyrical, musical in its sounds and in its silences. Make no mistake. Rapp is an original -- a distinctive voice unafraid to be too descriptive..." (Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press,

To the literature of the survivor we can now add Nocturne, playwright Adam Rapp's haunting, exquisitely detailed story of an intimate and devastating personal holocaust. The 90-minute monologue is a fiercely direct yet subtle and poetic chronicle of stunning loss, profound guilt, emotional disintegration, numb endurance and a slow but never entirely complete rebirth.

"Fifteen years ago I killed my sister," says the 32-year-old writer who narrates the story. It's an instant confession that signals the brutality of fact that will mark this work by the Chicago-bred, New-York-based, Juilliard-trained playwright, who also is known for his young adult novels. The scene of the "crime" that Rapp describes is a quiet street in suburban Joliet, where the narrator, then a 17-year-old boy with a summer job and a gift for playing the piano, accidentally ran over his beloved 9-year-old sister when the brakes on his used car failed to function.

The story itself is extreme and violent, but the telling of it is methodical, quiet, deeply introspective and so true that you may wonder if the whole thing is autobiographical. (There's no record that this is the case.)What is clear is that Rapp is an exceptional writer. His dense, imagistic piece may seem more like a short novel than a drama, and also may raise questions about just how much the listener, as opposed to the reader, can absorb. But it is enthralling nonetheless, and hugely seductive in its suggestion of the way years can pass in slow lock step as mourning works its way through the human organism. (The Chicago Sun-Times, April 16, 2002)

Reading more like a short story than a play, Nocturne describes in unnerving detail how a family's life can be violently rearranged in a pulse beat. A vividly rendered account of loss and its aftershocks. (The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, May 30, 2003)

Playwright Adam Rapp has the sensibility of a poet. In his new, one-man play Nocturne, he has approached the subject of personal loss and its consequences in an oblique and subtle way. In the guise of a straightforward re-telling of a painful tragedy, he burrows into the heart of human relationships to show different ways in which people respond to the loss of a loved one. Like the images he invokes, which resemble the colors that emerge when light is refracted through a turning crystal, the insights come from different angles. By the end of the play an understanding of sorrow and grief gives way to a sense of hope. In its own, quiet way, this play is life-affirming
(Larry Campbell,

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