The Kentucky Cycle

by Robert Schenkkan

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 254

When he first conceived the idea of The Kentucky Cycle, Robert Schenkkan never believed that it would grow into a history making, award winning, epic drama of Americana. He began the work in 1984 after a trip through rural eastern Kentucky as a wedding present to his wife, Mary Anne. The play grew as Schenkkan researched more about the region and his desire to say something about how modern America thinks of and rethinks its past and what that history means. The Kentucky Cycle won a grant from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays, which allowed Schenkkan to complete the cycle by fall of 1991 when it premiered at Intiman Theatre in Seattle. The 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama propelled The Kentucky Cycle to New York, where it opened to mixed reviews. Schenkkan captures the essence of America’s past and its fears and translates them into a work that many critics see as the best theater in the last two decades of American drama.

The Kentucky Cycle is a series of nine plays that spans over 200 years of American history in a small portion of eastern Kentucky. Although the features are local, the issues raised in the play are universally American and draw on the very best and the very worst in America’s history. The plays explore violence as a part of American life—whether that violence is racial, gender-based, or environmental— and how each generation deals with and works through the American tendency to use force first and ask questions later.

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