Marco Polo

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Release date: July 26, 1975
Venue: Eugene O'Neill Theater Center
Directed by: Lynne Meadow
Literature: Jonathan Levy
Written by: Edith Oliver (dramaturg)
Music: Michael Posnick

Everyone is familiar with the tale of Marco Polo and his epic journey into the remote and exotic kingdom of Kublai Khan. But here the story is given extra dimension through elements of court intrigue, the attraction between the hero and the Khan’s lovely daughter, and the greedy machinations of Marco’s father and uncle. Using mime, magic and staging of imaginative simplicity, the play builds steadily in suspense until its exciting conclusion, when the villain is punished and virtue rewarded at last. A fantasy for children in two acts and a Harlequinade. Place: The city of Venice, the court of Kublai Khan at Cambalu, the province of Yang Chose, and everywhere in between.

Joe Grifasi (Harlequin), Jay Garner (Nicolo Polo), Kevin O’Connor (Maffeo Polo), Ben Masters (Marco Polo), Michael Posnick (Musician), Louis Giambalvo (Prop Man), Dan Hedaya (Counsellor 1), David Berman (Counsellor 2), Ed Zang (Yellow Lama), Christopher Lloyd (Achmed), Meryl Streep (Princess Kogatin), Andy Backer (Kublai Khan)

In the book “The O’Neill: The Transformation of Modern American Theater”, director Lynne Meadow relates the story of casting Meryl Streep: “I said, I would like her to play the princess in Marco Polo. It was children’s theater, really sort of family theater. I had never really done that but I agreed to do this, because I thought the piece was charming. And so the moment comes when the bad guy, who was played by Chris Lloyd, says to Princess Meryl, “Give me your ring”. We’re rehearsing it and Meryl started to take the ring off. But then she was having a hard time, so she was yanking on her finger. Finally she put the finger between her knees, trying to yank the ring off, and then she rolled on the floor, still trying to get the ring off. It was hysterical. Jonathan Levy, the playwright, said, “But Lynne, she’s the Princess. What’s she doing?” And I said, “What she’s doing is just marvelous”. He said, “I don’t think a princess would act this way.” So I stopped the rehearsal. And Meryl and Jonathan and I walked to the side to talk about it. Jonathan said, “I’m not sure a princess would behave in quite such a way.” And Meryl said, “I did a lot of work with kids when I was in New Haven. It seems to me that kids really like to see their heroes have flaws. They prefer when their heroes are real people and have problems.” She used those words – “have flaws”. So I will never forget the moment of dealing with her, and Jonathan Levy then saying, “Yes, I think you’re right.” So we left it in and it was very funny.”

Meadow took Levy’s play to New York’s famed Phoenix Theatre in 1977. The role of Princess Kogatin was played by her Yale classmate Christine Eastabrook in New York.