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100 (MOSTLY OBSCURE) PLAYS YOU HAVE TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE

Ground rules:

  •  can’t be a play that STC has produced previously
  •  no more than one play per author (except for my favorites)
  •  no musicals!
  •  no 21st-century plays; it’s just too soon to tell

When you are a literary manager, you read a lot of plays that have been consigned to the dustbin of history. One of the ways of keeping track of all of them is to make lists—bucket lists, perhaps—of works that you love but the theatre hasn’t yet produced. One of the great thrills for the dramaturg is seeing a play jump off their own personal list and into production. (Usually goosed by a little help along the way—we dramaturgs are tiny but we are scrappy, and have been known to obsessively suggest the same titles to artistic directors for years and years.) It’s not always smooth: sometimes a reading can kill a play dead, sometimes a bad translation or adaptation can stop it even sooner. But part of the excitement of being a dramaturg lies in the fact that we are tasked on some level to be dreamers, to keep an ever-evolving wish-list in our heads.

It all sounds very utopian, but putting this list together was agonizing, as is anything regarding the canon. It is not meant to be a definitive account of the best plays ever written. I have intentionally left off plays which will be familiar in favor of ones that have been marginalized for reasons irrespective of their quality. Most obviously, because of longstanding cultural and evidentiary prejudices, there is a striking lack of women and artists of color until the 20th century (really, until the second half of the 20th century). Representation is an ever-evolving conversation, and it inevitably leads to larger questions about aesthetics, form, and the stories that we tell. Having said that, I’d prefer to let the list speak for itself. It’s organized thematically-chronologically, if that makes sense, with short accompanying title-headers.—DL

Political Drama (The Family)

  1. Aeschylus, The Oresteia (458 BCE)
  2. Racine, Britannicus (1669)
  3. Sam Shepard, Buried Child (1978)

Political Drama (Society)

  1. Aristophanes, The Birds (414 BCE)
  2. Molière, The Misanthrope (1666)
  3. Vladimir Mayakovsky, Mystery-Bouffe (1918)

Theater of War

  1. Sophocles, Philoctetes (409 BCE)
  2. Carlo Goldoni, The Battlefield (1760)
  3. Bertolt Brecht, Mann ist Mann (1926)
  4. Einar Kipphardt, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer (1965)

A Crash Course in Revenge Tragedy

  1. Seneca, Thyestes (62 CE)
  2. Anonymous, The Orphan of Zhao (c. 1200s)
  3. Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy (1582-92)
  4. Tirso de Molina, Tamar’s Revenge (1624)
  5. John Ford, ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1630)

Metaphysics (Classical)

  1. Euripides, The Bacchae (405 BCE/1969)
  2. Plautus, Amphitryon (c. 254-184 BCE) à Moliere, Amphitryon (1668) à Kleist, Amphitryon (1803)

Metaphysics (Christian)

  1. Anonymous, The York Cycle (c. 1350-1569)
  2. Antonin Artaud, A Spurt of Blood (1924)
  3. Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1953)

Metaphysics (Existential)

  1. Christopher Marlowe, Faustus (1594-97)
  2. Calderon de la Barca, Life is a Dream (1635)
  3. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Parts 1 & 2 (1775-1829)
  4. Heinrich von Kleist, The Prince of Homburg (1810)

Domestic Tragedy

  1. Thomas Heywood, A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603)
  2. Gotthold Lessing, Emilia Galotti (1772)
  3. Heinrich Leopold Wagner, The Childmurderess (1777)

Metatheater

  1. Beaumont & Fletcher, The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607)
  2. Henry Fielding, The Tragedy of Tragedies (1731)
  3. Ludwig Tieck, Puss-in-Boots (1811)
  4. Alexander Blok, The Fairground Booth (1906)
  5. Peter Handke, Kaspar (1967)

City Comedy

  1. Thomas Middleton, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (1613)
  2. Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair (1614)
  3. Phillip Massinger, A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1632)

Religion (The Utility Thereof)

  1. Lope de Vega, The Jewess of Toledo (1617)
  2. Bertolt Brecht, The Good Person of Szechuan (1943)

Nationalism/Revolution/Fascism

  1. Pierre Corneille, The Cid (1637)
  2. Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro (1778)
  3. Friedrich Schiller, Demetrius (1805)
  4. Henrik Ibsen, The Pretenders (1858)
  5. Griselda Gambaro, Information for Foreigners (1973)

The War of the Sexes (Restoration)

  1. George Etheredge, The Man of Mode (1676)
  2. William Congreve, Love for Love (1695)
  3. Sir John Vanbrugh, The Provok’d Wife (1697)

The Mysteries of Sexuality

  1. Pierre de Marivaux, The False Servant (1724)
  2. M.R. Lenz, The Tutor (1774)
  3. Frank Wedekind, Spring’s Awakening (1891)
  4. Paula Vogel, How I Learned to Drive (1997)

Philosophical Drama

  1. Denis Diderot, The Nephew of Rameau (1773)
  2. B. Shaw, “Don Juan in Hell” from Man and Superman (1903)
  3. Luigi Pirandello, Enrico IV (1921)

Flat-Out Farce (up to the 20th-century)

  1. John O’Keeffe, Wild Oats (1791)
  2. Johann Nestroy, Einen Jux will er sich machen (1842) à Thornton Wilder, The Matchmaker (1955) à Tom Stoppard, On the Razzle (1981)
  3. Dion Boucicault, The London Assurance (1841)
  4. Georges Feydeau, Le Systeme Ribadier (1892)

Germany: A Short History

  1. Georg Büchner, Woyzeck (1837)
  2. Georg Kaiser, Gas I (1919)
  3. Ödön von Horvath, Tales from the Vienna Woods (1931)
  4. Bertolt Brecht, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich (1938)
  5. Heiner Müller, Hamletmachine (1977)

Russia: A Short History

  1. Alexander Ostrovsky, Enough Stupidity in Every Wise Man (1868)
  2. Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard (1896)
  3. Maxim Gorky, Enemies (1905)
  4. Mikhail Bulgakov, Molière (The Cabal of Hypocrites) (1927)

America & Race

  1. Dion Boucicault, The Octoroon (1859)
  2. Adrienne Kennedy, Funnyhouse of a Negro (1964)
  3. August Wilson, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1984)
  4. Suzan-Lori Parks, The America Play (1993)

The Fin-de-siècle Avant-Garde

  1. Henrik Ibsen, The Wild Duck (1884)
  2. Maurice Maeterlinck, The Blind (1890)
  3. Alfred Jarry, Ubu Roi (1896)
  4. August Strindberg, A Dream Play (1906)

First, Second, and Third-Wave Feminism

  1. B. Shaw, Pygmalion (1912)
  2. Maria Irene Fornes, Fefu and her Friends (1977)
  3. Sarah Kane, Crave (1998)

Eastern Europe

  1. Karel Capek, RUR (1920)
  2. Wittold Gombrowicz, The Marriage (1946)
  3. Vaclav Havel, Largo Desolato (1982)

War of the Sexes (Screwball)

  1. Dawn Powell, Big Night (1928/1933)
  2. Hecht & MacArthur, Twentieth Century (1932)
  3. Kaufman & Ferber, Dinner at Eight (1932)

“Classical” American Drama

  1. Thornton Wilder, Our Town (1938)
  2. Eugene O’Neill, A Moon for the Misbegotten (1941-43)
  3. Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)
  4. Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (1949)
  5. Lillian Hellman, The Autumn Garden (1949)

Flat-Out Farce (20th Century)

  1. Noël Coward, Present Laughter (1939)
  2. J. Perelman, The Beauty Part (1962)
  3. Michael Frayn, Noises Off (1982)

The Post-War Avant-Garde

  1. Eugen Ionesco, Jack or the Submission (1955)
  2. Jean Genet, The Blacks (1959)
  3. Jack Gelber, The Connection (1959)
  4. Marguerite Duras, India Song (1972)

War of the Sexes (Post-Absurdism)

  1. Harold Pinter, The Homecoming (1964)
  2. Edward Albee, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1964)
  3. Alan Ayckbourn, Intimate Exchanges (1982)

Race & Colonialism

  1. Wole Soyinka, Death and the King’s Horseman (1975)
  2. Caryl Churchill, Cloud Nine (1978)
  3. Athol Fugard, Master Harold … and the boys (1982)
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