A list for playwrights and actors, young and old
If you are going to be a serious playwright or actor (or director, designer, etc), you need to be a serious play reader—even if you can’t afford to be a theatergoer, everyone can afford the library.
I’ve made a list (which will grow) of plays I think you ought to read. The list includes plays of different periods and writers who have different backgrounds and writing styles. It’s not complete, and it’s just my opinion. I’ve tried to select, for each major dramatist, one or two representative plays. Some are difficult reading, and some (particularly the contemporary material) may have adult content—nothing you won’t find in a newspaper. All can be handled, at least on some level, by a high school student with a little determination.
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.
The Bacchae by Euripides.
Eumenides (or any part of the Oresteia) by Aeschylus.
Lysistrata by Aristophanes.
Medea by Seneca
THE ELIZABETHANS AND MORE
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet and Richard III by William Shakespeare. Pretty much anything by Shakespeare is a good idea, and certainly Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Othello are worthy additions to this list (just a bit more difficult).
The Miser or Tartuffe by Moliere.
Volpone by Ben Jonson.
Edward the Second and Doctor Faustus by Marlowe.
Fuente Ovejuna by Lope de Vega
Life is a Dream by Calderon
She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith (mostly because you ought to read something Restoration).
THE “MODERN” DRAMATISTS
Miss Julie by August Strindberg.
Ghosts and Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen.
The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov.
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.
Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry.
TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICAN CLASSICS
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.
A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.
Long Day's Journey into Night and The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill.
Our Town by Thornton Wilder
TWENTIETH CENTURY EUROPEAN CLASSICS
The Visit of the Old Lady by Duerrenmatt.
Woyczek by Buchner.
Mother Courage by Bertolt Brecht.
THE ABSURD AND THE “POSTMODERN”
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Zoo Story by Edward Albee. Have more time? Read Three Tall Women or A Delicate Balance.
The Homecoming by Harold Pinter.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.
The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco.
Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello.
The Balcony by Jean Genet.
A GRAB BAG OF PLAYS FROM THE 1960'S AND LATER THAT I RECOMMEND
Angels in America by Tony Kushner.
American Buffalo by David Mamet.
Fences or Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by August Wilson.
Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class by Sam Shepard.
Dutchman by Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka).
Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deavere-Smith.
Marisol by Jose Rivera.
Lonely Planet by Steven Dietz.
Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchhill.
Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard.
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.
OTHER TOP CONTEMPORARY PLAYWRIGHTS (a major work in parentheses)
Suzan Lori-Parks (In the Blood), Maria Irene Fornes, Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive), Lee Blessing, Arthur Kopit (Oh Dad, Poor Dad…), Nicky Silver, Howard Korder (Search and Destroy), Alan Ayckbourn, Christopher Durang (Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You), Lanford Wilson (Burn This), David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly), Marsha Norman (‘Night, Mother), David Rabe (The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel), John Guare (Six Degrees of Separation), Brian Friel, Joe Orton (What the Butler Saw), George Wolfe (The Colored Museum), John Patrick Shanley (Doubt); Horton Foote (Young Man from Atlanta), William Inge (Bus Stop), Peter Shaffer (Equus), Adrienne Kennedy, Israel Horovitz
IF YOU’VE GOT A BIT MORE TIME
These aren’t the plays I’d choose to read first, but they’re very good, so if you get through the rest of the list, take a look.
Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets.
Duchess of Malfi by Webster.
The Sisters Rosenzweig by Wendy Wasserstein.
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.
No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre.
Look Back in Anger by John Osborne.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.