Thursday, December 22, 2005

Play with Me!

I love reading plays. Truth be told, I love reading them even more than I love seeing them. Don't get me wrong, I love a great production, but following a great script, reading it, re-reading it, reading as different characters in my kitchen or in bed or in the tub, poking around all the possible production choices, whipping up entire revivals in my proscenium imagination.... can't get enough.

Y'all know about the New Year's resolutions I make every year to see 24 Anglo-American movies and 24 international ones that had previously eluded me. I never come close to reaching them all, although in better years than this one, I manage about half. Anyway, I do the same thing with 24 plays, no more than one by the same author. (Also with 24 novels, but we won't get to that till another post.) I've only scratched six from my list this year—again, blame my dissertation, the new job, etc.—but I read many more than that. My favorites, in no particular order, were:
  • Jean Genet's The Screens, which was timely as all get-out as well as being astonishing in every other way

  • John Guare's Landscape of the Body, which I read well before I knew about the upcoming Signature production

  • Tug Yourgrau's The Song of Jacob Zulu, which so bravely avoided easier ways out of its story

  • Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman, whose thrilling Broadway production was almost exactly what I'd envisioned from the script, except the wobbly Goldblum and Ivanek perfs

  • John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, a deserving Tony winner in any other year, whose Broadway production was notably unlike what I'd envisioned

  • Will Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing), which was a hoot and a holler to perform, twice, while I baked

  • August Wilson's King Hedley II, which at long last debuted in print from TCG

  • Bertolt Brecht's Edward II, which I thoroughly enjoyed even before seeing Creative Mechanics' delicious Off-Broadway production this past September.
Anyway, what I need now are recommendations for what else I should be reading. With plenty of readers who love the thea-tah and know it 1000x better than I ever will—I'm looking atchoo, ModFab, those are your ears burning, Webloge—I'm looking to have my mind blown by new stuff, provided it's in print. What are your favorite plays? What tickled your fancy recently? What are you reading now? Come one, come all, classics and newbies.

Making it harder: I've still got all the 2005 plays I didn't get to moving onto the 2006 list, so these authors are already spoken for: Bullins, Calderón, Chekhov, Churchill, Congreve, Fornès, Ibsen, Kane, Kramer, Lorca, O'Neill, Orton, Racine, Shakespeare, Shaw, Wilde, Wilder, and Yew.

Now, I know y'all are still up to it. Throw down some titles and make your case. Get everyone talking drama, no matter what Mary J. say. Here are some hints—I'm definitely on the market for a good Soyinka or Fugard, or a Pinter that will challenge the impressions I've formed from The Caretaker, The Homecoming, and The Room. Extra points for any good African-American drama, since it'll come in handy for my Spring 2006 seminar. My absolute favorite playwrights are Adrienne Kennedy, Tennessee Williams, Caryl Churchill, and Bertolt Brecht, if you need some guidance on taste.

Now: ready, steady.... go!

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10 Comments:

Blogger Dr. S said...

I must be five years old, or suffering brain-shrink because of grading, because my first thought when I saw this post's title was "tee hee hee." Jesus.

2:00 PM, December 22, 2005  
Blogger tim r said...

Greetings from Hertfordshire! Your one-stop Pinter solution is Old Times: I really think it's the Pinter play for people who don't like Pinter. (From the sound of it, both of us.) I caught the really great Roger Michell production at the Donmar Warehouse last year, which lured me into vague bafflement for 90% of its duration, and then gave me goosepimples. Structurally fascinating to say the least.

Have you heard that Mark Steyn quote about what constitutes the Pinteresque? "A pause followed by a non-sequitur". Pretty spot-on, no?

Not African-American drama per se, but Rebecca Gilman's Spinning into Butter, about campus race politics, is still worth a read before that SJP movie comes out. Not a great play, in the end, but pretty good.

Also, stuff by Phyllis Nagy, as I'm sure Webloge will concur, and Joe Penhall's terrific Dumb Show.

Here's me bummed, on a side note, that you're not so nuts about Sometimes in April...

7:10 PM, December 22, 2005  
Anonymous ModFab said...

Yeah, Creative Mechanics is still up at http://www.creativemechanics.org. Thanks for the plug!

As for the plays you should be reading...don't know what I can add to a list that includes Calderón, Churchill, Kane, Lorca, Wilde, Wilder, and Yew. (Great choices all!) How about I suggest some of the language playwrights (yes, that is a mini-genre): Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog, Fucking A, The America Play); Richard Foreman (My Head Was A Sledgehammer); Erik Ehn (The Saint Plays); or my favorite just-breaking playwrights, Dan Dietz (Tilt Angel) and Lisa D'Amour (everything).

ModFab's Top Theatre of 2005 will be out next week, too...so there'll be more suggestions then.

11:04 PM, December 22, 2005  
Blogger Dr. S said...

I have been wanting to read Fucking A ever since Nick loved his way through it a few summers ago.

11:10 PM, December 22, 2005  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

@Dr. S: Lovely talking to you tonight. We got our play-date after all!

@Tim: I've been curious about Old Times and don't know anything about it. No secrets spoiled, etc. Great suggestion. Also curious about Nagy, as per your Mrs. Harris rave. (I actually like Pinter, at least so far: I'm still at the stage where I'm seduced by the novelty and haven't much thought through its implications. I do notice, though, that I never remember anything about his plays, even quite shortly after reading them.)

And sorry about the Peck. Good material, sometimes starkly realized, but I just thought it was shot and structured all wrong.

@ModFab: Parks is one of my theater idols, especially both of the Red Letter Plays and The America Play. But everything else you mentioned is news to me, so thanks a mil.

11:58 PM, December 22, 2005  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Oh, and Derek of the stringent standards literally just read Spinning into Butter (it's like we're all on each other's cycle, &c.), and he really liked it. Felt about it just as you seem to.

11:59 PM, December 22, 2005  
Blogger StinkyLulu said...

I really do love Fucking A. I've been really loving my recent Stephen Adly Guirgus binge & you can't go wrong with anything by Adam Bock.

As far as more historical pieces, I just came off teaching the first half of theatre history & -- as an unrepentant Americanist -- was surprised by how interesting I found (a) Kalidasa's Shakuntala and (b) Moliere's Tartuffe (which had been my least favorite of the major Molieres but this time through I really got it).

9:56 AM, December 26, 2005  
Blogger thewebloge said...

Of course I'll play! Here are a few recent(ish) plays I suspect you'll flip for...

Rona Munro's prison drama, Iron. It's about mothers and daughters, and the terrible risk of love, and it's a scorcher.

Any of Debbie Tucker Green's fierce plays.

David Harrower's gorgeous first play, Knives in Hens.

If you're into Greek tragedy and luscious language, try The Three Birds by Joanna Laurens.

Abi Morgan's Tiny Dynamite, because you're a romantic.

I can imagine you performing Tim Crouch's one-man play, My Arm, in your tub.

You say you're on the market for a Fugard. The Island is a must.

I also second Pinter's Old Times. And, like Tim, I recommend Joe Penhall, though I think Blue/Orange beats Dumb Show by a whisker.

And do read Phyllis Nagy, starting with Weldon Rising and Butterfly Kiss. You'll find shades of Tennessee Williams in both.

8:37 AM, January 02, 2006  
Anonymous Thomas said...

I recently read "Roosters" by Sanchez-Scott and thought it was excellent (some supplimental reading for Roosters - go to the Janus Head archives and look for the Magic Realism issue).

Edward Bond will kick you in the nuts a couple times - "King Lear" is brutally good. Like Kane? Then you'll like Bond.

9:45 PM, January 05, 2006  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Sorry...

Also, "The Monument" by Wagner,
"the Glass Menagerie" by Williams and "Jesus Hopped the A Train" by Guirgis

9:49 PM, January 05, 2006  

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