The Nativity Variations: Allusions In The Play

The cast of Avenue Q. Photo credit: The New York Times.

Catherine Trieschmann’s play is full of theatrical and pop culture allusions.  A primer to help you with some you might not know:

Long Day’s Journey Into Night: Widely considered to be Eugene O’Neill’s most brilliant play, the autobiographical Long Day’s Journey Into Night follows the Tyrone family as they struggle with their own faults and those of their other family members.

Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction: In the 1980s thriller Fatal Attraction, Glenn Close plays a woman spurned by a man with whom she has an affair. His disregard of her eventually leads her to spiral into violence and seek revenge on her former lover.

Steel Magnolias: This play by Robert Harling follows a group of strong Southern women as they live through loss, laughter, and unwavering friendships with each other.

Rumors: A farce by Neil Simon, Rumors is a comedy that takes place during a 10th anniversary party where everything that can go wrong does.

Marat/Sade: This avant-garde play by Peter Weiss takes place in the Charenton Asylum, where a play-within-aplay directed by Marquis de Sade is being staged. The play explores the idea of revolution through changing society or changing oneself.

Daniel Day Lewis: Actor Daniel Day Lewis is known for his intensive research and immersion into his acting roles. His preparations have included putting himself into solitary confinement, living in the woods for a month, almost dying of pneumonia from his refusal to wear modern clothing, and acting as his characters outside of set.

Avenue Q: This Tony Award winner for Best Musical is an adult spoof of famed children’s television show, Sesame Street. Following the format and structure of the longrunning children’s show, the musical incorporates puppets into the staging and has songs about sex, racism, lost dreams, and other adult topics.

4.48 Psychosis: This final play by Sarah Kane is said to be a subjective interpretation of experiencing depression. It has no explicit staging or characters, so productions vary greatly based on the director’s vision.

Antonin Artaud: Artaud is one of the most prominent figures in the European avant-garde theater movement of the early 20th century; he was also a poet, writer, visual artist, and philosopher. Artaud is most influential in theater for his “Theater of Cruelty,” a break from a more traditional Western theater in which the communion between audience and performers is paramount and visceral.

Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein: In the classic Mel Brooks comedy, Young Frankenstein, Gene Wilder plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein with outlandish and over-the-top antics.

Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not: Bacall is known for her smolder and craft as an actress and her first role as Marie “Slim” in To Have and Have Not is considered one of her seminal performances. “Once more to the breach!”: This is a paraphrase of a line uttered by King Henry in Shakespeare’s Henry V as he rallies his compatriots to go back into battle.

The Passion of the Christ: This 2004 film depicts the final days of Jesus. It was a controversial film because of its violent and graphic nature, as well as antisemitic content.

Nietzsche: Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher, philologist, and cultural critic who had great influence on modern thinkers. Nietzsche’s work spanned a myriad of topics and his writings have been discussed and debated for over over a century.

Waiting for Godot: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is considered one of the finest plays of the 20th century. The play is existential in nature and illuminates discussions about life, morality, and larger questions.

Beckett: Samuel Beckett was a playwright who was a key figure in the Theater of the Absurd. Beckett’s plays are bleak and at the same time darkly comic, and ask the audience to explore the larger questions of life.

Molière: A French playwright, poet, and actor, Molière lived and wrote in the 17th century. He is one of the most well-known and loved French dramatists, lauded for his masterful comedic writing.

Wedekind: Benjamin Wedekind was a German playwright in the late 1800s/early 1900s whose work questioned bourgeois attitudes and was a precursor to expressionism and influential in the development of epic theater.

Ibsen: Henrik Ibsen was a Norwegian playwright in the 19th century and early 20th century. He was one of the founders of modernism in theater and is considered “the father of realism.” His work continues to be influential in Western theater to this day.

Hamlet with Ethan Hawke: In this 2000 film adaptation of Hamlet, Shakespeare’s tragedy is moved to contemporary times and incorporates modern technology and sensibilities while keeping Shakespeare’s language.

Ingmar Bergman: Bergman was a Swedish film director, screenwriter, and playwright who is considered one of the most influential and innovative directors of all time. His films are praised for their cinematic interpretations of the human condition and the profound questions of life.

Kum-and-Go: Kum-and-Go is a convenience store chain which originated in Iowa and is found primarily in the Midwest.

RuPaul’s Drag Race: RuPaul’s Drag Race is a long-running reality competition show where drag queens compete in challenges to test their performance and making skills.

Romeo and Juliet: Luhrmann vs. Zeffirelli: Vanessa and Mateo discuss two well-known film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet. Franco Zeffirelli’s classic film (1968) portrays a more traditional period interpretation of the story, while Baz Luhrmann’s film (1996) takes inspiration from MTV and 1990s popular culture.

Jesus Christ Superstar: The Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar premiered in 1970 and has enjoyed many productions since. The opera follows the last days of Jesus Christ with a rousing rockinspired libretto.

Godspell: In Godspell (1971), various biblical parables are played out by Jesus and other biblical and nonbiblical characters. The musical uses traditional hymns as inspiration for some of the songs and music in the show, but uses the contemporary musical influences of the late 60s and early 70s to bring the music into the modern era.

To learn more or purchase tickets to The Nativity Variations click here.

Additional Photos:
1. Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Photo credit:
2. Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein. Photo credit: Rotten Tomatoes
3. Promotional image for RuPaul’s Drag Race. Photo credit: