Oresteia is the only extant trilogy of ancient Greek drama and a
foundational text not only of Western theatre but Western culture, as
it traces the shift from a system of blood lust and revenge to the
rule of law.
OEDIPUS THE KING
the King is the most noted of ancient Greek tragedies, the one
used by Aristotle in The Poetics as the model of the perfect tragedy from which he
deduces the nature and form of tragedy.
It epitomizes Sophocles elegant, economical style and insight
into human nature.
not a formal trilogy, Oedipus
the King, Antigone, and Oedipus at Colonus form a triad of related plays referred to as the
Theban Plays. Antigone tells the story of Oedipus's daughter and her fight with
her uncle Creon, ruler of
, to determine which is more important, the law of the gods or the law
of man. It has been used
as a play of civic protest to unjust rule in the 20th
Bacchae is significant for showing the god Dionysus (god of wine,
fertility, and theatre) as a character and for revealing some of the
beliefs and practices centered on his worship.
best known and most performed tragedy, Medea
reveals Euripides' fascination with atypical personalities, realistic
strokes in characterization, and movement toward melodrama and away
from the strict tragedy of Sophocles and Aeschylus.
Medea is thought of as one of the best and most challenging
roles for women.
most popular, though not most representative, play, Lysistrata reveals the bawdiness that the writer of the only extant
ancient Greek comedies was capable of.
Its comedy has made it a favorite of 20th-century
audiences as has its critique of war (many of Aristophanes' plays
' involvement in the Peloponnesian War with
) and images of empowered women.
is most responsible for introducing and popularizing many of the
elements of dramatic comedy that would be used in Commedia dell'Arte,
by Shakespeare, and up to the present day.
This tale of confusion when twins are separated at birth but
end up by coincidence in the same city as adults was Shakespeare's
basis for The Comedy of Errors.
Master THE SECOND SHEPHERD'S PLAY
the French and Germans wrote a number of medieval farces, The Second Shepherd's Play is one of the few surviving
. This short play is still
often performed at Christmastime, but was originally part of the
cycle plays dramatizing existence from creation to doomsday and is one
of the finest examples of vernacular religious drama.
is the most performed of Medieval morality
plays, and embodies that form's portrayal of human characters and the
use of allegory to show the consequences of moral choices that
individuals make. This
form is utilized in many modern plays, such as David Mamet's
dark comedy from 1605 shows Jonson’s cynical view of human beings
who bring on their own bad ends through their lust, greed, and deceit.
tragedy displays a fascinating combination of medieval dramatic
elements with emerging Renaissance humanistic concerns, all
underscored with some of Marlowe’s most beautiful and powerful
about the play is “classic,” from its memorable poetic lines (“To
be or not to be. . .”) to its basic “revenge tragedy” action of
Hamlet attempting to gain revenge on his father’s murderer.
The revenge tragedy, inspired by Elizabethans' study of
Seneca's works and having common characteristics like multiple deaths,
supernatural elements, and soul-searching soliloquies, became a
popular sub-genre of the time, the most famous example of which is
the most monumental tragedies in the English language, it weaves
together two terrible stories of fathers who fail to see the truth in
their children until it’s too late.
Blindness and madness are recurring themes.
HENRY IV, pt. 1
with the Biblical story of the prodigal son, Prince Hal leads a
dissolute life and seems unfit to follow in the footsteps of his
illustrious father until the King dies and Hal must prove his worth
through courageous action and by dismissing his profligate friends,
who include the memorable John Falstaff.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
creates four separate worlds (fairies, the court, a band of common
laborers, and two pairs of lovers in the woods) and then manages to
bring them all into comic collision and achieve a climax that mocks
the very theatre he practices.
tale of passionate love and overreaching ambition with a backdrop of
eerie witches. Some
critics consider it Shakespeare's darkest play.
It is certainly one of his shortest.
Opinion divides over whether Macbeth or Lady Macbeth, who eggs
him on, is most evil. Or are they evil.
Are they victims of predestination?
last play he wrote alone, Shakespeare uses magical powers and mystical
creatures who can fly or live underground
to explore the love, beauty, and forgiveness of human beings. Written
while exploration of the
was at a fever pitch, the play reflects the mysteries of the new world
and has often been considered a reflection on/of colonialism.
dastardly character brings about the fall of a great black hero by
fueling his jealousy and suspicions regarding his beautiful white
wife. It constitutes the
last of what are commonly thought of as Shakespeare's four major
tragedies, which also include HAMLET, KING LEAR, and MACBETH.
THE DUCHESS OF MALFI
of his two tragedies with a powerful female protagonist (THE WHITE
DEVIL is the other), Webster elevates a story of bloodthirsty family
revenge into something almost lyrical and compassionate (c. 1613).
Webster is now commonly considered second only to Shakespeare as a
renaissance writer of tragedies.
SAKUNTALA & THE RING OF RECOLLECTION
prime example of ancient Indian Sanskrit drama, Sakuntala
tells a fascinating story of a king who falls in love with a celestial
nymph but suffers a curse that erases her from his memory.
The play exhibits all the qualities of this most flexible of
considered the finest comedy of the Italian Renaissance, The Mandrake is full of lies, schemes, deceptions and disguises.
Based in Machiavelli's belief that human nature is flawed and given to
self-centeredness, it shows the influence of Commedia dell'Arte and is
regularly performed today.
of the Noh theatre form of which it is a part, this short play
features spirits who cannot leave the world because they have become
too attached to some part of it. Part
ghost story, part Buddhist philosophy, and part dance this play
reveals the sparseness of the Noh form.
LOVE SUICIDES AT SONEZAKI
written as Bunraku (puppet) play, Love
Suicides was soon adapted to the Kabuki form.
Like a feudal Japanese Romeo and Juliet, it tells a story of love and honor that ends
tragically. It and similar
plays became so popular that a rash of copycat double suicides forced
the Japanese authorities to ban such works.
LIFE IS A DREAM
prediction that his son will rule violently and tyrannically leads a
king to lock his young son in a wilderness fortress.
When his has grown, the king decides he should be drugged and
brought to court to see how he behaves.
If poorly, then he will be drugged again, returned to the
wilderness and told it as all a dream.
Such is the premise of one of the most profound dramas on
identity and free will.
Lope de Vega THE SHEEPWELL (FUENTE
Commander of the town of
terrorizes its women, the women take matters into their own hands by
shaming the village's men to mete out the justice that they know the
higher authorities would avoid. One
of the first plays with a group protagonist, this play has
similarities to Lysistrata.
by the playwright whom many revere as the greatest dramatic comedy
writer of all time, this play explores what happens when the head of a
house believes in the lies of a charlatan religious man and how his
family fights for control over their lives, property, and future. It
was banned for years due to the power of outraged religious
authorities before King Louis XIV was able to (somewhat) safely allow
absolutist Alceste learns what social havoc he may cause and how his
own life may be ruined when he holds to his philosophy that people
should be absolutely honest with each other, no matter the
consequences, forgoing the "hypocritical" social lubricant
of good manners, gossip, and a bit of flattery.
position in the French canon like that of Hamlet
in the English, this primary example of neoclassical tragedy explores
the consequences of illicit love (of Phedre's stepson) and jealousy.
Although based on Euripides' Hippolytus,
it differs from the original. Phedre is thought of as one of the most
prized and challenging roles for an actress by the French.
play that initiated the judgments that led to the
's codification of neoclassicism's "rules" retains its
Spanish inspiration's theme of love vs. honor but packs murders,
duels, engagement, breakup, reconciliation, and a whole war into one
and 18th Century:
THE WAY OF THE WORLD
character-rich Restoration comedy explores ideals of security and
constancy in relationships as Mirabel and Millament face difficulties
in proving their love.
THE BEGGAR’S OPERA
created a new form, ballad-opera, by using contemporary ballads as the
basis for the music of the play and by setting his love story in a
criminal world through which he could satirize contemporary politics
and overly sentimental drama. Bertolt
Brecht later adapted this play as THE THREEPENNY OPERA.
play is subtitled THE HISTORY OF GEORGE BARNWELL, and that title
signifies the huge step that Lillo’s play represents in 1731 because
the tragic hero is a common man, an apprentice who steals from his
employer. This domestic
tragedy proved extremely influential, especially to European writers
of ‘bourgeois’ drama—plays about the common man.
As a warning and lesson, it was performed annually at holiday
time for all of
's apprentices until the 19th century.
THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
attacks scandal-mongers through a tightly constructed comic plot in
which Lady Teazle almost commits adultery before reconciling with her
husband. With distinctive
characters and clever scenes (such as the “screen scene” where
hidden characters overhear a torrid affair), the 1777 play became a
model for comic drama, including early American plays such as FASHION
and THE CONTRAST.
THE COUNTRY WIFE
Restoration world that seemed only interested in sex and other
pleasures, Horner, the hero of this 1675 comedy, pretends impotence as
a cover for his affairs and his courtship of Margery Pinchwife, the
beautiful, naïve, and eager wife of the jealous Mr. Pinchwife.
In this world, it is not libertine behavior that is wrong, but
only hypocrisy and rural naiveté.
THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS
was Goldoni's most noted attempt to transfer the spirit and form of
Commedia dell'Arte into a fully written script.
Often performed today, this comedy of love and mistaken
identity has at its heart a servant who outwits his masters.
THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO
second play featuring the clever barber/servant character of Figaro,
who manages to keep his beautiful young lover safe from the clutches
of two wealthy, conniving, and lecherous old men.
At its time (1784), the play was
censored because it seemed too critical of aristocratic indulgence.
Its ultimate production seemed a warning shot of the 1789
Stowe/Aiken UNCLE TOM’S
on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, this is the most widely
produced drama in American theatre history.
It influenced American culture for 100 years (e.g., “Uncle
Tom,” “grow like Topsy,” and the Uncle Tom sequence in The
King and I) and is still intriguing for its melodrama, its rich
variety of characters, and the ways in which it confronts racial
issues. George Aiken's
dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel was the most widely
produced and was thought most effective.
in his short life (he died at only 23) and in his three plays, Buchner
expressed sympathy for the socially downtrodden but also
disillusionment with all segments of humanity.
Woyzeck is a soldier, but also the subject of a doctor’s
crude experiments. Although
written in 1837, the play was not produced until 1913 because of its
incomplete, disjointed construction.
THE INSPECTOR GENERAL
Gogol’s darkly comic 1836 masterpiece, a nobody
arrives in a small Russian town and is mistaken for an important
government official. What
follows is a wild display of greed, fear, pride, and utter stupidity
that satirizes bureaucratic corruption and human foibles.
The play almost seems to go beyond its realistic roots into a
realm of fantasy.
he wrote in some other styles, Nobel-prize-winner Gerhart Hauptmann is
best known for his naturalism, which was influenced by the theories of
Emile Zola and the drama of Henrik Ibsen.
Hauptmann tends to emphasize characters over plot, as in this
1892 play, which features a rare group protagonist and examines the
plight of common workers.
A DOLL'S HOUSE
play, in which a young wife comes to realize the constrictions put on
her social and personal awareness and possibilities by society's and
her husband's narrow conception of marriage and the roles of women not
only demonstrated for the world how a detailed psychological
conception of character could be incorporated in a realistic
environment (the final step in creating realism), but became an icon
and weapon in the women's rights movement.
claimed to be following the naturalism of Emile Zola, but his emphasis
on the psychology of his characters and on their heredity and
environment—very apparent in this short 1888 drama--achieved a
symbolic level. The “Preface”
to the play is also worth reading and is considered a blueprint for
creating a naturalist production.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
and his brilliantly drawn upper class characters turn normal values
upside down in this comic masterpiece from 1895.
The dialogue is so clever it may have you laughing out loud as
you read it.
A FLEA IN HER EAR
play epitomizes “French farce.” A variety of characters, most of
whom possess some identifying idiosyncratic feature, seek sexual
couplings for a variety of reasons, and they all come together in a
disreputable hotel with surprises behind all the numerous doors on the
set. In addition to tight
construction, the 1907 play features a revolving bed and one actor
playing two lead roles.
SPURT OF BLOOD
play of a few pages by the theorizer of Theatre of Cruelty, whose
ideas influenced post-WWII theatre deeply, reveals its surrealistic
roots in a nightmarish vision of little dialogue and rich images that
includes, among others, a spurt of God's blood.
WAITING FOR GODOT
masterpiece by the most influential of "absurdist"
playwrights, Waiting for Godot
has been called the most important play of the twentieth century.
Its dramatic form and action, in which "nothing"
happens, involving two tramps waiting for someone who may never
arrive, challenged and revolutionized the way plays were written.
single, seemingly inescapable environment, a blind character who
cannot walk gives orders to a seeing man who moves with difficulty as
they seek to understand their environment and situation, often by
insulting the blind man's elderly parents, who each live in a trash
MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN
now classic piece of epic theatre by the major playwright and theorist
of the form traces the actions of a woman and the cart from which she
sells her wares to soldiers during the Thirty-Years War (1618-1648).
The loss of each of her three children to the war raises
questions of her responsibility for their deaths, the humanity of
capitalistic systems, the value of family, and the justice of war.
THE CHERRY ORCHARD
the four full-length plays by the playwright whose works in part
inspired Stanislavsky's theories to address their character
complexities, The Cherry Orchard reveals the resistance of
's landed gentry to adapt to the social and economic changes that
threaten to claim their beloved orchard and home.
In the meantime, it raises questions about how alone we are in
the universe, what the past means to the present, and what is possible
in a true story, Genet's play portrays the ritualistic act of two
maids who take turns acting as "Madame," abusing each other
as either servant or employer. The ceremony reveals not only the
maids' hatred of the Madame's authority, but also their hatred of
themselves for participating in the hierarchy that oppresses them.
THE BALD SOPRANO
with the banalities in a text Ionesco was using to learn English, he
transcribed their superficialities and odd truths into this classic
absurdist play, which rejects traditional forms of narrative, plot,
and structure and explores the modern human experience through the
fragmentation of language.
FROM MORN TO MIDNIGHT
play, which some call the greatest of expressionistic dramas, follows
the experiences of a bank clerk who embezzles money from his bank,
rejects his family, and attempts to find true experience, unalloyed by
social norms, as well as a kind of salvation in a series of
experiences that reveal and portray the distortion of human nature and
perception that modern civilization has caused.
new bride runs away with another man after her wedding, her husband
finds the couple, the two men kill each other,
and all are left to mourn. Through song, chant, poetry, music, rhythm
and nonrealistic techniques, Lorca creates a highly symbolic and
stylized action that at once critiques parts of Spanish society and
also reveals the conflict between individual wishes and societal
DEATH OF A SALESMAN
the best-known American play of the twentieth century, by the
playwright often referred to as
's social conscience, Death of a
Salesman portrays the illusions and memories of a salesman one
evening when he returns from a failed sales trip.
Showing the influence of expressionism and using a flashback
technique, the play reveals how Willie Loman's wholesale acceptance of
ideals related to the American Dream lead to his interpersonal,
social, and economic failure.
A LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
in about1940 but not staged until 1956, the play displays the typical
emotional power of O’Neill’s characters within a realistic world.
Since it is highly autobiographical, the play is also
significant as a look into O’Neill’s troubled personal life, and a
wonderful portrait of his father, a famous star of the
THE EMPEROR JONES
addition to realism, O’Neill experimented with a variety of other
styles. In this 1920
one-act tragedy he dramatizes the “expressionistic” decline of a
dictator. Besides the
unique style, the play is significant for focusing on an
African-American as protagonist (an effort that has seen wide swings
in critical response), for the actors who first played that lead role,
Charles Gilpin and Paul Robeson, and for the startling designs of
SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR
challenged traditional theatrical, social, and cultural values and
forms. In this 1921 play
he uses a play-within-a-play format to explore relationships between
appearance and reality, life and the theatre, and private identity and
French philosopher, novelist, and playwright, Sartre espoused his “existentialism”
through his plays, in which characters are defined not by their
psychological states, but by their choices and their actions.
Like many European works written just after World War II, NO
EXIT (1944) implicitly explores what individuals did or didn’t do
during the war years.
ability to dramatize debate on social and political issues is
illustrated in this 1905 play in which an arms dealer takes on a
social reformer. Shaw’s
irreverent and incisive humor allowed him to take generally accepted
ideas and turn them on their head.
1938 classic celebrates the joys of everyday life in Grover’s
, on a day in 1901. In it,
as in all his plays, Wilder deviates remarkably from the realistic
stage conventions of his day by using minimal scenery, direct address
to the audience, and other non-realistic devices.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE
1945 drama—Williams’s first success—clearly demonstrates the
lyrical quality of the author’s words and of his stagecraft as it
alternates deftly between monologues and memory scenes.
It is also largely autobiographical in representing Williams’s
prudish, overbearing mother and his delicate, introverted sister.
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
battle between Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois in this 1947 play
is one that resonates through most of Williams’s work:
the lady of illusion and refinement versus the man of strength
and candor. Or,
repression versus release, the puritan versus the sensualist.
THE ZOO STORY
1958 one-act drama established Albee’s reputation.
It is the quintessential story of two people meeting at a bench
in the park, but what ensues demonstrates Albee’s acrobatic verbal
skills and powerful dramatic sense.
(Albee has now expanded it into a two-act play called Peter
and Jerry, with Act I being Homelife
and Act II being the one-act play written 45 years earlier.)
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
takes on the theme of illusion and reality in this 1962 drama.
The dialogue is especially vivid and fierce as the play
explores the love-hate relationship between George and Martha.
The Mike Nichols-directed black and white movie (with Richard
Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) is also excellent.
leader in the black arts revolutionary movement that viewed theatre as
a weapon in the struggle for black liberation, Baraka dramatizes
social and racial issues from unusual perspectives and with arresting
candor, as in this powerful 1964 one-act play. The play reflects
Baraka's suspicions if black involvement in white or dominant culture
is healthy for blacks, which is in turn reflected in his name change
from Leroi Jones to Amiri Baraka when he accepted Islam.
injustice and feminism are two themes that run through many of
Churchill’s plays, and none more so than
this 1979 play, which was developed through a series of
improvisational sessions. Churchill
is also fascinated by the historical background of current social and
political issues, and in this play British imperialism leads to sexual
and racial problems. The
play also shows the author’s characteristic switching of genders and
time frames to create unnerving effects.
THE ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST
Prize winner Dario Fo began as a comic
writer, and his work became more and more political and satiric.
This 1970 comedy combines his political sensibilities with his
comic skills to expose corruption and incompetence in government
FEFU AND HER FRIENDS
is known for whimsical humor and innovative, cinematic dramatic
techniques. In this 1977
piece, her most well-known work, she delivers a feminist perspective
on female friendship and women’s roles in a patriarchal society.
playwright Brian Friel often uses clever theatrical devices such as
narrators in his plays. This
1980 drama deals inherently with colonialism and loss of native
culture as the English rename Irish locations in 1833.
It also features a touching love story and the problems of
SIZWE BANZI IS DEAD
work comes out of the South African political oppression known as “apartheid,”
which tried to keep races legally separated.
But his plays reach beyond political polemic and expose
individual pain and loneliness through difficult choices, as in this
1972 drama, in which a man must decide whether to give up his identity
and assume that of another person in order to get a job.
THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES
in this 1970 play, which was his first major work, combines realism
and highly theatrical devices with romantic lyricism and satire.
A RAISIN IN THE SUN
1959 drama is a classic portrait of black family life, black cultural
movements, and the situation of blacks within American society prior
to the civil rights upheavals of the 1960s.
The play, the first by an African-American woman on Broadway,
introduced the themes that black drama would deal with for the
following decades: tension between white and black society, division
over ways for blacks to react to white oppression, assimilation, the
locus of black identity, African heritage, the relationship between
black men and women, dreams and the impediments to their realization,
stereotypes, etc. Moreover,
the play was prescient in its feminist perspectives that marriage is
not necessary and that career ambition is acceptable if not laudatory
for a woman.
typically mixes history, fantasy, and realism to explore the “fluidity
of identity” common to the multicultural modern world.
This 1988 play about a French diplomat who falls in love with a
Chinese Opera star, has been called “a dazzling deconstruction of
cross-cultural and sexual delusions.”
: THE MILLENNIUM
APPROACHES and PERESTROIKA
monumental 1993 set of two plays addresses issues of family, love,
death, acceptance, the AIDS epidemic, and the political world of the
1980s in a style that veers from realism to fantasy, utilizing
miraculous appearances and overlapped scenes.
GLENGARY GLEN ROSS
1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning play shows off Mamet’s distinctive,
truncated language style, his lively, outspoken characters, and his
recurring interest in the way
poster-child of postmodern theatre texts, Hamletmachine's
few-page length belies its often multiple-hour playing time.
Themes, events, characters, and actors from Hamlet
overlap with historical, cultural, ideological, and metatheatrical
connotations, references, double and triple entendres.
Its pastiche, "quotes," layering, and reflexivity
make it densely postmodern.
thirty-something woman announces to the mother with whom she lives and
cares that she plans to commit suicide before the night is over, it
sets up a struggle between the mother's attempt to save her life and
the daughter's justification for her death.
The truth-telling that results, as well as the quality of
dialogue, pacing, character construction and insight reveal
LOOK BACK IN ANGER
1956 play, by criticizing British society and even the Queen herself,
signaled the emergence of a post-World War II group of British
dramatists who came to be known as “the angry young men.”
The phrase derives from the protagonist of this play,
Porter, who, although university educated, comes from a
working-class background. He
refuses to hold a job while he allows himself to be catered to by two
than 40 years old, Suzan-Lori Parks was the first African-American
woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama, for Topdog/Underdog
(2001), but it was The America
Play that largely
created her reputation as a playwright who experiments
outside conventional form and is willing to raise difficult questions
of racism and African-American legacies.
The play's (black) protagonist, The Foundling Father, in a
twist on blackface, works in a carnival in whiteface dressed as
Abraham Lincoln while patrons take on the role of
's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and reenact the killing.
Other characters dig for the evidence of the Foundling Father
and other remains in the Great Whole of History. Parks' idiomatic use
of language marks her as one of the
's most distinctive playwrights.
THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
plays were criticized for the lack of a traditional plot.
In this 1958 play, Goldberg and McCann bully
, although we aren’t quite sure why.
The term “Pinteresque” was coined to describe such menacing
and enigmatic situations. Pinter
was also known for the pauses and silences that punctuate his work (a
“Pinter pause”), and claimed that the important actions take place
in the pauses.
psychologist decides to take on the case of an adolescent boy who has
blinded a number of horses with a spike he finds a boy who has found a
god through the horses, on which he goes on sensual night
rides naked. The play
reveals the often conflicting impulses in people between rationality
and irrationality, and the need for both.
Although the doctor realizes he can make the boy socially
acceptable, the cost will be the boy's creativity and sense of
the play is interesting in that it uses psychological realism as well
as a sense of expressionism, employing such devices as masks, mime,
FOR COLORED GIRLS . . .
Shange's for colored girls who
have considered suicide when the rainbow is enough is actually a
"choreopoem," a series of 20 poems choreographed to music.
Through seven performers, the work searches for and expresses a
black female identity, marking out and clarifying a unique black
female body, language, and movement.
Movement is, in fact a central theme of the piece, and its
attempt to combat stasis is expressed in the improvisational
foundation of the piece, and the improvisational, ensemble nature of
of the first Pulitzer Prize ever awarded to a play premiering
off-Broadway, this work has undergone numerous revivals and an
extensive revision by Shepard. As
one of his three "family" dramas that brought Shepard
international recognition (including The Curse of the Starving Class and True West), Buried Child
is already, according to Ben Brantley of the NY Times "a bona fide classic: a work that conveys the
mystical, cannibalistic pull of family ties even as they
unravel." When Vince
arrives at his grandparents' farmhouse and they don't remember him,
the strange events begin as a fallow field yields armloads of carrots
and corn and the secrets and forgotten past of the family begin to
surface as well.
THE ODD COUPLE
the most popular plays by
's most successful playwright, The
Odd Couple traces the comedy that arises when two friends,
diametrically opposed in temperament, find themselves as roommates
after their marriages fall apart.
Often reprised, inspiration for a long-running television series,
and existing in a more recent female version by Simon, this play
reveals the playwright's gift for comedy, character behavior, and his
insight into the foibles and complexities of human relationships.
THE STRONG BREED
by Soyinka's knowledge of Greek tragedy, The
Strong Breed nonetheless examines the dynamics of community and
ritual in African culture. With
the new year near, a community searches for
a "carrier," one of the strong breed, who can bear the
burden of the community's guilt by being a ritual sacrifice.
A helpless outsider, a mentally impaired boy seems the perfect
choice, but he is unwilling and thus the community's guilt may not be
carried away. What will
the stranger and exile, Eman, one of the strong breed, do?
Like the Yoruba ritual (of
) upon which the play is based, Soyinka's work reveals both the
physical and metaphysical worlds in performance.
opens in the early 19th century as the grounds of an estate
are being transformed from rational, orderly arrangements of the
Enlightenment to the radical Romantic look of wild nature that swept
. When the precocious
fourteen year old Thomasina asks her handsome tutor what "carnal
embrace" is and replies to hug a cow carcass, the comedy and
themes of the work quickly take off, as the space between and
intersections of rationality and emotion, science and art, time and
space come into play. When
the second scene opens in the same room but now in the present time,
with characters investigating the estate's early 19th-century
activities, the questions of how far history differs from the past and
how time is not the obstacle we thought it was arise provocatively.
HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE
of the Pulitzer Prize, How I
Learned the Drive accounts the story of Li'l Bit and her
relationship with her uncle, who sexually molested her from the time
she was eleven. Told from
Li'l Bit's perspective as a full-grown woman after her Uncle Peck's
death and within the context of Peck's lessons to her of how to drive,
the play admits not easy condemnation of the man, for it was he who
most cared for her in the world and who taught her, literally and
figuratively, how to control her vehicle.
The form of the play is interesting in moving forward and back
in time simultaneously, utilizing the driving metaphor, and in calling
for minimalist staging.
ostensibly about the title character, Wasserstein's play depicts the
experience of women in the baby boom generation in their journey from
adolescence to full womanhood. Set between 1965 and 1989, Heidi serves
as the play's guide as we witness, often through comedy, key moments
in her life, the obstacles she encounters, often in the form of males'
narrow view of women, and choices she makes to create a life that she
feels is self-defined. The
play won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer and Tony.
was the second drama August Wilson wrote in his vast project of
a series of plays, each of which would represent African-American
experience during one decade of the twentieth century.
With Radio Golf in
2005 he completed the project, which had begun with Ma
Rainey's Black Bottom in 1984. All the plays are set in
, the town of
's youth, and Fences
concerns the decade after WWII and conditions and feeling on the eve
of the civil rights movement in the 1950s.
In the play,
takes up many of the circumstances and themes with which Miller dealt
in Death of a Salesman, but always with an important difference that
illuminates the divergence between white and black experience. Troy
Maxson, a once talented baseball player, found himself relegated to
the Negro leagues, representative of the opportunities denied or lost
to him in his life. His
rebellion and frustration infect not only his dealings with society
but with his family, particularly his sons, and lead to his personal
failings. The play is a
complex and compelling query into the roots and effects of social vs
personal responsibility, legacies, and the importance of historical
experience in shaping generational perspectives.
THE PIANO LESSON
the 1930s, The Piano Lesson
brings to the foreground an idea that exists as an undercurrent in all
the plays of his decalogy, differing black Americans' attitudes to
their own heritage and past and its use in creating a better future.
In the play, Boy Willie has come north to take and sell the
piano, a "white" instrument, that his ancestor had claimed
and transformed by carving into it images of black
. With the money he will
buy land, land his ancestors had worked as slaves, and all the
opportunities that go with it. His sister, Bernice, however, argues
that the piano, representative of their past, their struggles, their
ancestors, is too precious to sell and that something irretrievable
would be lost if it were. How
can the conflict be resolved?