Being an English teacher, I get to read and teach amazing plays. Reading plays satisfies the Drama Queen in me, and any student of mine will testify to the fact that I love to do the accents (sometimes badly, but I'll give them a shot). Plays are short and can be read in no time but leave a lasting impact, so don’t be fooled by their brevity. Plays, by their very nature, also need to be watched, but when there is no production on at the theatre, you can always conduct the directorial duties in your own mind. That’s the beauty of the imagination. Here are some amazing plays I haven't become tired of (yet).
1. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
It's no wonder that this play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1948 and it really is one of the most amazing plays ever written. Set in downtown New Orleans, the arrival of Blanche DuBois (an English teacher...she wasn’t my inspiration for becoming one, by the way) at her sister's apartment causes tension among the characters, particularly between her sister Stella and Stella’s husband Stanley. It’s a play full of conflict and passion and is an essential read. The characters leave a lasting impression, long after you have read the closing lines.
2. Educating Rita by Willy Russell
This play is set in Liverpool in the late '70s. It charts the intellectual journey of a young, frustrated, working-class hairdresser. She yearns for much more from her mundane existence as a newlywed whose husband wants nothing more than to have a baby. When she decides to take up an Open University course in literature, she soon befriends her tutor, Frank, a middle-aged alcoholic. As their friendship develops, it becomes clear that they both benefit from the partnership, even though they are each so different in so many ways. It's both funny and touching and is one play I love to read again and again.
3. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
This is another Pulitzer Prize winning play and was written in 1949. It’s much more somber than the last. Willy Loman is an aging salesman who is so disillusioned with the present that he takes comfort in the past. His family finds it hard to contend with his gradual mental decline and Willy finds it hard to let go of the dreams he has for his family. A great play but as the title suggests, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops.
4. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
This is an incredibly moving play, which premiered in 1962. George and Martha are a middle-aged married couple who have an incredibly, shall we say, tempestuous relationship. Their bickering is amusing at first but later reveals underlying tensions and hostilities. The arrival of a young couple, Nick and Honey, throws more conflict into the mix and of course, it all ends in tears.
5. A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
This play, written by a Norwegian playwright, was certainly ahead of its time in terms of the themes it was dealing with. Written in 1879, it follows the character of Nora, who is a stifled housewife struggling to contend with her existence and desperate to break out of the metaphorical ‘doll's house’ in a marriage in which she feels confined and restricted. A brilliant play with, for its time, a shocking ending.
6. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde was an amazing playwright and is one of my favorites. This play really puts the 'play' into 'word-play,' as the title is indeed a play on words! It's a social satire written in 1895 in which people assume alternative identities, with hilarious consequences. In true Oscar Wilde style, it’s witty and intelligent. I can still hear my English teacher reading the character of Lady Bracknell and screaming "A handbag?” Brilliant. You'll know what I'm talking about when you read it.
7. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
This play follows the Younger family who are living in the Chicago slums and struggling with racism in post World War II America. The characters are constrained, not only by their living situation, but also by the limits which society has put upon them. When they learn that money is coming their way, the family discusses how they should spend it. As with any great play, this is where conflict and chaos ensue in their pursuit of the American Dream.
I could go on and on about other plays I adore, but these are the key ones I love. Have you read any interesting plays? What plays would you recommend for others to read?