[On a side note, I realized that at least two of these plays are also plays about homosexuality, so that can be a subtopic as well]
As a preface to this, I should probably say that I ended up going through a major plays phase in my second semester of college. This can almost entirely be blamed on an advanced English class I still to this day don't know how I got into (mostly because it was designed for junior/senior English majors, and not Freshman biochem majors). Some of these plays are from this class. Some are those I discovered during my manic play-reading that followed after.
21. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams:
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof first heated up Broadway in 1955 with its gothic American story of brothers vying for their dying father's inheritance amid a whirlwind of sexuality, untethered in the person of Maggie the Cat. The play also daringly showcased the burden of sexuality repressed in the agony of her husband, Brick Pollitt. In spite of the public controversy Cat stirred up, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Drama Critics Circle Award for that year. [And, because so many of the people I've met online are McShep fans, let's just say that you could probaby get a good fussion fic out of this.]
Why you should read it: This is my mother's favourite play. More than that, though, it is a powerful, stirring play. It's intense and full of life and Maggie's agony at the position she's been forced into - of loving a man who does not and can never love her back - is just heartwrenching. But there's a hopeful air to things too - but how much of that is truth and how much is mendacity is hard to tell.
“In all these years, you never believed I loved you. And I did. I did so much. I did love you. I even loved your hate and your hardness.”
“My only point, the only point that I'm making, is life has got to be allowed to continue even after the dream of life is--all--over....”
"Of course you always had that detached quality as if you were playing a game without much concern over whether you won or lost, and now that you've lost the game, not lost but just quit playing, you have that rare sort of charm that usually only happens in very old or hopelessly sick people, the charm of the defeated.”
22. Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill:
Drama in four acts by Eugene O'neill, written 1939-41 and produced and published, posthumously, in 1956. The play, which is considered an American masterpiece, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1957. O'Neill's autobiographical play is a shattering depiction of a day in the dreary life of a couple and their two sons. James Tyrone, a semiretired actor, is vain and miserly; his wife Mary feels worthless and retreats into a morphine-induced haze. Jamie, their older son, is a bitter alcoholic. James refuses to acknowledge the illness of his consumptive younger son, Edmund. As Mary sinks into hallucination and madness, father and sons confront each other in searing scenes that reveal their hidden motives and interdependence.
Why you should read it: Because Eugene O'Neill is my favourite playwright. He wrote so many beautiful ones, and this is possibly the most amazing of them all. Highly autobiographical (read: the names have been changed to protect the innocent). Deeply profound. The kind of play that you can only read, because it just doesn't come across right preformed. For anyone who's ever felt the stirings of madness, or lived with those who have.
“None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.”
“We are such things as rubbish is made of, so let's drink up and forget it."
23. Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett:
Tragicomedy in two acts by Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot was a true innovation in drama and the Theater of the Absurd's first theatrical success. The play consists of conversations between Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for the arrival of the mysterious Godot, who continually sends word that he will appear but who never does. They encounter Lucky and Pozzo, they discuss their miseries and their lots in life, they consider hanging themselves, and yet they wait. Often perceived as being tramps, Vladimir and Estragon are a pair of human beings who do not know why they were put on earth; they make the tenuous assumption that there must be some point to their existence, and they look to Godot for enlightenment. Because they hold out hope for meaning and direction, they acquire a kind of nobility that enables them to rise above their futile existence
Why you should read it: This is the kind of thing you either will be bored to tears with (read: my mother) and never finish, or which will lodge in your brain like a kernal and expand and blossom into something that will never, ever leave you. And that alone is reason enough to read it. Two quote one critic: “[Waiting for Godot] has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What's more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.”
“Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for one the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us! What do you say?"
24. Rozencratz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard:
Why you should read this: It's on the same tone as above, but slightly more accessible and, in a way, even more profound, as, unlike Waiting For Godot, suff happens in this play. It's still Absurdist - brilliantly so - but rather than the absurdity of life, it's the absurdity of death that's the topic here. Plus there's the whole this was inspired by Hamlet, and uses characters from it aspect to it that makes me want to giggle and point and say and you said fanfiction was stupid to all the naysayers. So, yeah, issues.
“We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.”
“Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You'd have a chance at least. You could lie there thinking: Well, at least I'm not dead.”
"There must have been a moment, at the beginning, were we could have said -- no. But somehow we missed it. ”
25. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner:
Tony Kushner's Angels in America is that rare entity: a work for the stage that is profoundly moving yet very funny, highly theatrical yet steeped in traditional literary values, and most of all deeply American in its attitudes and political concerns. In two full-length plays--Millennium Approaches and Perestroika--Kushner tells the story of a handful of people trying to make sense of the world. Prior is a man living with AIDS whose lover Louis has left him and become involved with Joe, an ex-Mormon and political conservative whose wife, Harper, is slowly having a nervous breakdown. These stories are contrasted with that of Roy Cohn (a fictional re-creation of the infamous American conservative ideologue who died of AIDS in 1986) and his attempts to remain in the closet while trying to find some sort of personal salvation in his beliefs.
But such a summary does not do justice to Kushner's grand plan, which mixes magical realism with political speeches, high comedy with painful tragedy, and stitches it all together with a daring sense of irony and a moral vision that demands respect and attention. On one level, the play is an indictment of the government led by Ronald Reagan, from the blatant disregard for the AIDS crisis to the flagrant political corruption. But beneath the acute sense of political and moral outrage lies a meditation on what it means to live and die--of AIDS, or anything else--in a society that cares less and less about human life and basic decency. The play's breadth and internal drive is matched by its beautiful writing and unbridled compassion. Winner of two Tony Awards and the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for drama, Angels in America is one of the most outstanding plays of the American theater.
Why you should read it: Because there really is nothing like it. While technically it is two plays - of which the first, Millennium Approaches, is much closer to my heart than the second - it is a monumentous work when taken together. It's like reality slapping you in the face. Only the person slapping you isn't reality, it's magical realisim (that might be too much Sunday school or maybe Schizophrenia) and what you're being slapped with is reality. Kinda. IDK how to explain it. It's worth a read though - and the HBO miniseries isn't too bad either.
“It isn't easy, it doesn't count if it's easy, it's the hardest thing. Forgiveness. Which is maybe where love and justice finally meet.”
"My whole life has conspired to bring me to this place, and I can’t despise my whole life.”
“Respect the delicate ecology of your delusions.”