Plays by Phyllis Nagy

Butterfly Kiss

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Butterfly Kiss unfolds the story of Lily Ross’s life – and her crime – through oblique, shifting and mesmeric scenes, her interlaced memories revealing the psychosexual tangle of her childhood and the events that led up to her trial.

From her jail cell, Lily summons up her past: a vivid collage of cross-fades and flashbacks, which reveals aspects of her experience cumulatively, not chronologically. At the age of fourteen, her father, a lepidopterist, sets her up as a girlfriend for his ex-Marine buddy. A relationship blossoms with Martha, a woman she meets in a bar. Her grandmother forces her to watch her father and mother together. She runs after her father on his way to visit her mother, who is in hospital with hypochondria. Lily’s relationships are spikily chronicled in hard-edged scenes, all leading in an impossible multiplicity of ways to the terrible truth of what she has done to her mother.

Butterfly Kiss was first performed at the Almeida Theatre, London, in 1994.


Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Disappeared is a tense flickering mystery thriller revolving around the unexplained exit of a woman from a bar in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan.

Sarah Casey is a travel agent who has never been anywhere. In between bickering with her mother and her almost-fiancé, she frequents a dive bar on Forty-Eighth and the highway.

There, one evening, she meets the peculiar Elston Rupp. Elston works in a second-hand-clothing shop, and wears other people’s clothes and names: he introduces himself to Sarah as Timothy Creighton.

Their conversation on the last night Sarah was seen is interwoven with the scenes which follow her disappearance: press conferences appealing for information; police interrogations of Elston; Elston’s impassive reaction; Sarah’s mother’s grief. The elliptical structure endows Nagy’s play with a rich tension, and the characters’ need for escape gives it a final, elusive beauty.

Disappeared was first produced in 1995 at the Haymarket Studio, Leicester.

The Strip

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Strip is made up of meticulously controlled multiple narratives, a dizzying and elusive play of connection, fate and love.

In America, Ava, a woman aspiring to be a female impersonator, is offered a job at Tumbleweed Junction, but no instructions about how to find it. Unknown to her, her mother cleans toilets there, and records letters to her daughter that she will never send. The man who has come to repossess Ava’s car is falling in love with her. The journalist Kate cleans her automatic pistol and writes letters to an astrologer.

In England, redneck Lester and his wife and baby are living in a tiny flat in Earls Court. Across from them live gay fitness freak Martin, and his dissatisfied roommate Tom. In her flat, the astrologer Suzy prepares star charts and replies to Kate’s letters.

All the strands seem to be manipulated by the sleazy, shadowy Otto Mink, nudging the characters towards the story of their lives.

The Strip was first performed in 1995 at the Royal Court Theatre, London.

The Talented Mr Ripley

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When Tom Ripley is sent to Italy to track down Richard Greenleaf, the errant son of a wealthy American couple, his mission takes on a sinister twist as their lives become inextricably entwined.

Phyllis Nagy's stage adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel, The Talented Mr Ripley, explores the mind of one of crime fiction's great anti-heroes; an intelligent, suave and charming psychopath whose amorality is at the centre of a plot about duplicity and murder.

The Talented Mr Ripley premiered at the Palace Theatre, Watford, in October 1998.

Weldon Rising

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Weldon Rising is a startling, surreal and incandescent play, about four people in a heat wave, and a murder.

The spindly Natty Weldon is trapped in the epicentre of a city on heat. His boyfriend has been stabbed, and Natty is consumed with cowardice and grief. The incident was witnessed, and is re-enacted, under the gaze of two quarrelsome neighbourhood lesbians, Tilly and Jaye, whose own relationship floods the stage in tandem with the main event. Further commentary is provided by an outrageous transvestite, Marcel, who speaks only in the third person.

The rising heat is accompanied by reports on the radio of a plane exploding on take-off, of a bus melting, and of all the bridges collapsing: Nagy presents a city in meltdown in which the characters are cast adrift, but bravely trying to reclaim the world and each other.

Weldon Rising was first produced at the Liverpool Playhouse Studio in 1992.

Picture of Phyllis Nagy

Phyllis Nagy was born in New York City and has lived in London since 1992. Her plays, including Weldon Rising, Butterfly Kiss, Disappeared and The Strip, have been produced throughout the world and have received awards including the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award, a Mobil Prize, a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Eileen Anderson/Central Television Award, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a McKnight Foundation Fellowship.

Phyllis is currently under commission to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Nottingham Playhouse and the Royal Court Theatre, where she was recently writer-in-residence. She has adapted Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley for the Watford Palace Theatre while Never Land, opened at the Royal Court Theatre in January 1998, while her version of Chekov's The Seagull was produced at Chichester Festival Theatre in the summer of 2003.