Friday, April 10, 2009's 10 plays theatre "newcomers" should see

Wade Bradford of has written a list of 10 plays that newcomers to theatre should see.

"A friend of mine recently confessed, 'I haven't watched a play since junior high.' He then asked me for suggestions. He wanted to know which stage productions were essential for a person who is new to theater-going, who might not have time to see plays very often," Bradford writes. "His question made me wonder... Which plays represent the best elements of the theater?"

Although there are no absolutes when it comes to the Top 10 of anything artistic, Bradford offers some unusual choices. You can read the full list here.

What shows would you suggest to someone who was new to theatre productions? Remember, this isn't a list of your favorite shows, but those that would give a newcomer an idea of what theatre has to offer.


Wahooty said... Tom Stoppard. He is smart, he is funny, and he can write a play that is engaging without swordfights, musical numbers, or slapstick.

Most of this list is the stuff that people saw/read in high school and are preconditioned to NOT like, no matter how brilliant the fundamental work may be. In my case, no matter how much I love American Theater, I have no desire whatsoever to see The Crucible after having a) read a rather climactic scene in my 11th grade English class opposite my teacher and b) seen a high school production of it (albeit a good one). Great desire to see it again. And I love theater - can't imagine how my classmates would feel about being dragged to it.

I also have no desire to ever watch another Samuel Beckett play. Beckett is NOT approachable to someone who doesn't think they like plays, unless it is EXTREMELY well-produced. The fact that someone put Waiting for Godot on a primer boggles the mind. I read it in high school because I had to, and have only ever seen one production that was entertaining. But maybe I'm biased by a college acting/directing classmate that was WAY too fond of Beckett.

"Noises Off" and "Earnest" are pretty much impossible to dislike. And I remember that "Antigone" hooked me when I was in elementary school. But I think most of this list is pretty trite, and loaded with things that a neophyte would think, "I don't need to see that, because I read it in 11th grade."

Steve Martin said...

Ten productions that I'd suggest theatre "newcomers" watch so they'd get an idea of what live theatre can do, in no specific order:

1) Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. For its fireworks.

2) Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill. For its slow burn.

3) The Nerd by Larry Shue. For its sheer farce.

4) Our Town by Thornton Wilder. For its directness.

5) Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill. For its theatricality and politics.

6) Medea by Euripedes. For its focus on choice rather than fate.

7) A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. For its multiple plots and romance.

8) Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen. For its character study.

9) Cabaret by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. For its theatricality.

10) Angels in America by Tony Kushner. For its scope.

I'll probably come up with another 10 shows in about 10 minutes. But I think these would be a solid intro to theatre.

Steven Koehler said...

I don't know if I can name just 10, but if we are talking about a broad introduction to theatre:
1) Hamlet by Shakespeare. I hate teh comedies, they are formulaic, and not very well crafted. Hamlet it one fo the finest scripts ever written not to mention a great story

2) Importance of Being Earnest - I can back this one, it s a great comedy written by one of the best playwrights.

3) Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, although Hedda Gabler would be great as well. I am not a huge fan of Ibsen, but love the sins of our fathers theme running through the play.

4) Fences, or possibly The Piano Lesson, two of the best of the incredible ten part series of the late August Wilson. As a whole the work he did is amazing, but these two stand out.

5) Angels in America by Tony Kushner, have to agree Steve, huge show, brilliant, possibly a little dated by now, but still amazing.

6) The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde - by Moises Kaufman, brilliant treatment of true life, possibly the greatest realization of Brecht since Brecht.

7) Some Greek Play - not sure which, I personally am not a huge fan of the Greeks, but they are certainly an essential part of any introduction to western theatre.

8) Our Town - brilliant theatricality and touching and thought-provoking script.

9) There should be some farce, but not sure which one, I would lean towards and English or French on though, they just do it a lot better than Americans. I will go with Ray Cooney - Out of Order, just to get a title.

10)Arcadia by Tom Stoppard - I agree with Wahooty, there needs to be something by Stoppard, and Arcadia is simply beautiful. It was Proof before there was Proof, great math, wonderful story, brilliant play.

Of course there is also W;t, Chicago, Raisin in the Sun, Henry V, The Seagull, Proof, Doubt, many many many more.

I also agree wiht Steve that in 10 minutes I will have a different list, except Hamlet, I just love that play.

Wahooty said...

Okay, loveloveLOVE Cabaret. Love everything about it. Would probably be willing to do illegal things if it meant my getting to be Sally Bowles. But since we're on the subject of musicals, I think Into the Woods is one of the most approachable yet artistically redeeming shows ever.

Thank you, Stephen - Arcadia is probably my favorite Stoppard. But, you could always kill two birds with the one stone that is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. ;) That's one play I read in high school that I NEVER get tired of.

Totally agree with Angels in America. WONDERFUL.

I would also argue that there should be a place for Neil Simon in a list like this. A little Brighton Beach Memoirs, Odd Couple, or Barefoot in the Park runs higher on my list than Moliere or what have you.

Steven Koehler said...

Okay #6 should read Gross Indecency, the Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.

I was very close to putting R&G are dead, that is one show that would be inthe top 20 for sure, and depending on the day would easily crack the top 10.

I have never been a huge Neil Simon fan myself, but you are correct, when keeping within the defined goals of the list (as introduction to theatre) he should have something there I suppose.

I also detest Sam Shepard, but he should make the list, True West, or Burried Child, something about hating his dad.

I stayed away from musicals on purpose, although they should definitely be on any list, perhaps a top ten musicals:
1) Cabaret - for all the reasons state above

2) Hair - it is dated and the book is sloppy, but this show had such an impact on the American Stage that it needs to be on the essential list.

3) Into the Woods - I agree, very accessible (especially for Sondheim) and incredibly artistic and musically beautiful.

4) Chorus Line - written by and about the gypsy dancers, the true stars of most large musicals.

5) Rent - far from my favorite, but again the impact thing.

6) Ain't Misbehavin - I hate reviews, especially the new trend of throwing together a bunch of hit songs from some group around a weak story and playing for nostalgia. This show is different, there is no pretense of a story, the music is amazing and it launched the career of Nel Carter, one of my favorite singers.

7) The King and I - Yul Brener owned the role, performing the part of the King of Siam more than 4,000 times in his career. It is the height of Rodgers and Hammerstein, music propelling the story forward.

8) Anything Goes - the new less racially offensive book please. This is an older form of musical theatre, the songs don't necessarily propel the story, but what great music.

9) The Full Monty - the book is seriously flawed in places, but this show, based on one of my all time favorite movies, is touching. Not nearly as naughty as people expect it to be, although far from a family show, The Full Monty is touching and warm and lots and lots of fun. Just make sure you have a top notch lighting designer, cause no one wants to see the whole thing. Okay some do, so make sure your users watch for flashlights.

10) You're a Good Man Charlie Brown - this is more of a personal favorite. Shellie and I got to know each other and started dating because of this show. However personal reasons aside, who doesn't love the Peanuts?

Mark Allen Carter said...

Any list that includes Neil Simon with Arthur Miller is immediately flawed.

1. Death of a Salesman. Arguably the best play written.

2. The Glass Menagerie. Beautifully crafted.

3. The Laramie Project.

4. Proof. I am so proud to have been able to direct it.

5. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Startling.

6. Hamlet. The best Shakespeare.

7. Inherit The Wind. For its brilliant depiction

8. Amadeus. Magical.

9. Crimes of the Heart. A favorite.

10. I Never Sang For My Father.