There are so many amazing plays out there it can be hard to pick which ones to choose. And even with a deep cultural history, seeing a play is entirely determined by where you live and what is on. Even then going to a show can be expensive. But reading theater plays can be a great way to get a similar experience. It won’t be the same as going out to a show, but it can be just as rewarding. Plus, reading a play allows you to put extra thought into the writing and original intentions of the play. If you can’t afford to go out to the theater right now, or you just want something good to read, we have a great list for you.
Water By the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes
A sequel to one of Hudes previous plays, Water by the Spoonful follows the Pulitzer Prize-winning story of a war vet and his estranged mother. You don’t have to have read or seen the prequel to fall in love with this play. It discussed PTSD, addiction, family, and heritage all in the ever-changing age of the internet. This play will make you cry and feel alive.
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
Largely considered the beginning of modernism in theater, A Doll’s House caused riots when it first premiered in 1879. The play tackles womanhood through roles as wife and mother. It is an early piece of feminist playwriting that encompasses the dissatisfaction women face when stuck in gender roles. This play is a classic of both the stage and of feminist literature.
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
Oedipus Rex is a play so popular you can probably recite the plot line without having ever read or seen it. But even if you know it, there is still value in reading the original. You will gain a deeper understanding of ancient Greek playwriting standards and culture. It is a theater play that is so pervasive in our culture that it’s almost ridiculous to not read it. Also read Sophocles other two of The Three Theban Plays (Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus) which sequel the original story.
Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar
Disgraced confronts the meaning of what it means to be Muslim in America. The protagonist hides his Islamic background from work fearing retribution. His fears prove to be true when he doesn’t get a promotion for taking on a controversial muslim client. The play confronts the issues with being Muslim in the United States, and what it means to be an American.
Stupid Fucking Bird by Aaron Posner
Based on the classic Chekhov play, The Seagull, Stupid Fucking Bird is at its heart a play about plays. It breaks boundaries of what a play should be, and how it should be done, all with a backdrop on discussion about art. This play puts a great twist on Chekhov’s classic (which you should also read).
Angels in America by Tony Kushner
Tony Kushner’s epic play takes the better part of a day to watch live. It follows the lives of multiple people living in New York during the AIDS crisis. Angels in America combines realism and fantasy as it juxtaposes peoples life with the supernatural, and the idea of heaven. This is one of the best plays to tackle queer subject matter. Though it takes some dedication to make it to the end, it is definitely worth it.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
It is impossible to give a summary of Waiting for Godot because it is a play where nothing happens. There are two men simply waiting and that is all there is. The play has no reliance on time or plot. But it’s distance from traditional playwriting standards are what make it so amazing. It is a theater play that rewrites the meaning of what it is to be a play.
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
In today’s world of Black Lives Matter, discussions on race are pervasive and necessary. A Raisin in the Sun confronts systemic racism and how to overcome it. This play follows a black family in Chicago as they face daily oppression and try to move into a nicer neighborhood. The issues they face in moving are still very real issues people face today. A Raisin in the Sun has remained relevant over the past half-century.
Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill
Caryl Churchill is one of the most unique playwrights of the last century. Cloud 9 encompasses centuries of oppression by having the beginning and end take place a century apart. The family depicted isn’t affected by the powers of time, showing an ongoing cultural oppression that has never gone away. Cloud 9 confronts ideas of gender, class, and family in a new and interesting way.
The Flick by Annie Baker
The Flick is a theater play where nothing happens and at the same time, everything happens. This Pulitzer Prize winning show takes place in a movie theater where you watch the interactions of those that work there. It is a show that will make you remember your part-time job from back in high school, but in a good way.
Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee
There is no shortage of straight white men represented in today’s media. But this play opens a discussion on masculinity and privilege that puts into question what it means to be a man. Each man in the play has his own idea of male privilege and how it should be used. It is a profound look at masculinity and the role it plays in our lives.