Aside from Shakespeare’s classics, it seems as though the reading of plays is a dying art form. It’s not that people don’t still read plays, but in my personal life I get the sense that not many of my friends are choosing to pick a play to read over the classic novel format. I find that written scripts can sometimes even be more fun to read than an actual book can be; reading to-the-point stage directions is a fascinating way to get a point across without having to delve too much into prose and detail. Some of the greatest and most important pieces of literature I’ve read are plays, and I would like to share seven of my top favorites that are great fun whether you’re reading or watching them!
1. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
Pronounced with a silent “t” Waiting for Godot was written by Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, and first performed in 1953. It’s very much an absurdist tale featuring two men whose lines don’t necessarily coincide or make sense together, but who are, as the title would suggest, waiting for a man named Godot to tell them what they must do and where they must go next. Naturally, Godot never makes his appearance and the two men resolve to hang themselves upon a single tree inhabiting the stage the next day should he fail to arrive again. They agree to clear the stage after coming to this conclusion, but rather just continue to stand there until the lights fade to black (or you read the final stage direction indicating the same). Beckett was known for this sort of absurdist writing, and Godot is probably his most well-known play though its plain strangeness can be both funny and frustrating.
2. Six Characters In Search of an Author, Luigi Pirandello
Image Via TVTropes
Luigi Pirandello was an Italian dramatist whose major work Six Characters In Search of an Author was first performed at the Teatro Valle in 1921. Pirandello is thought of as a precursor to a theatre movement known as “Theatre of the Absurd.” This particular play is in fact a play within a play, and it begins when a theatre company is rehearsing their latest show. The rehearsal is not going well, and out of nowhere a family of six find their way onto the stage, imploring the creative team to write them a story to be performed. Their misfortune, you see, was that they had been characters written into a play that was abandoned by its author. The play unfolds as the family describes the vestiges of the life their previous “father” had given to them. Reading this play can be quite the trip because of the constant question nagging at your mind, “What exactly is reality, anyway?”
3. A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen
Image Via HuffingtonPost
Ibsen was a playwright whose work was influenced tremendously by his life in Norway. His characters tend to be sullen and depressed with their lives, and feel an inescapable sense of hopelessness. A Doll’s House which was first performed in 1879 tells the story of Nora Helmer, a wife and mother who becomes increasingly dissatisfied with the life she is living. She wants to make a change from her life and its routine, and finds her husband patronizing, narcissistic and proud. A Doll’s House is a huge forerunner in terms of showing a woman openly express her unhappiness with wifely and maternal duties, and the show ends with Nora making an incredibly strong-willed and controversial decision that Ibsen himself stood by until the day he died.
4. No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre
Image Via TheatreMania
No Exit, which first premiered in 1944, was written by the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. The play opens with three characters: Joseph, Ines, and Estelle who find themselves inhabiting a small room in a corner of hell. Mayhem inevitably ensues amongst the three damned souls; as Ines is attempting to seduce Estelle, Estelle is attempting to seduce Joseph. They confess the sins committed in life that brought them to this place in death, but their confessions do nothing to abate the situation. As the story progresses, we the readers and/or audience members discover that the message behind Sartre’s play is that hell is other people. Ouch. Burns more than the fires of hell.
5. The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
The Importance of Being Earnest is probably one of Oscar Wilde’s most famous works. It was first performed in 1895, and the opening night was in and of itself a wild ride. Despite how well it did that first night, this was also the moment Wilde’s sexual preference came to light and ultimately helped to result in his death. The Importance of Being Earnest is a play of farces that pokes fun at societal norms and the burdens that come along with them. We learn of two friends, Algernon and Jack who both wish to escape from their individual lives, and both fall in love with women who help to create even more misunderstandings throughout. It’s clear that Wilde had a lot of fun writing this play that so blatantly satirizes the strict conventions of the Victorian era. While I think this play is crazy fun whether you’re reading it or watching it performed live, I think it’s worth it to find a movie clip of the very classic “muffin” scene. You won’t regret it.
6. The Three Sisters, Anton Chekhov
Image Via WHYY
Chekhov was a Russian writer whose play The Three Sisters was first performed at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1901. It tells the story of a brother and his three sisters who live together in their deceased father’s home. Their father had died over a decade prior, and ever since the tragedy they dream of one day moving back to “the big city.” The years pass them by, however, and they only ever discuss their dreams of leaving Moscow. Misfortune follows the family at every turn, and their brother eventually marries a working class woman who slowly but surely takes full control of the family’s estate until they are practically pushed out and onto the streets. Without a doubt, this character exists as a symbol of the Russian working class versus the upper and wealthier classes.
7. Mother Courage and Her Children, Bertolt Brecht
Image Via theglobeandmail
Brecht was a German writer whose play Mother Courage and Her Children was written in 1939 and is often considered one of the best plays of the 20th century as well as one of the best anti-war play that exists. Brecht also had a kooky way of presenting his theatre to audiences, he liked to pull the audience out of their experience by having various crew-members enter the stage with giant signs indicating time and setting; he wanted people to take values away from his shows, to let them know that these were shows, but that this is also real life as well and to fight for your rights (cue Beastie Boys). The play takes place in a war-torn 17th century Europe, and the title character of Mother Courage finds herself running from the war in a caravan filled with supplies and her three strange children.
Whether you read these plays, or have the good fortune to see them performed, their stories are important and continue to resonate across time and space.
Feature Image Via Pinterest