Help me find plays for an advanced reader
January 28, 2010 6:25 AM   Subscribe

My daughter is looking for some plays to read. I'm looking for suggestions of plays that are interesting to an avid reader, but still appropriate for her age level (8 years old).

She is reading at a more advanced level and has requested to read some plays. While I can think of some amusing plays she might enjoy, they often have some elements not really appropriate for younger readers. Recent books she has enjoyed include The Sword in the Stone, The Series of Unfortunate Events books, Daniel Pinkwater's Neddiad and Yggysey and The Hobbit. She's currently reading The Lightning Thief.

I appreciate any pointers towards playwrights or specific works. I was thinking of starting with comedies, but am open to any suggestions.
posted by mikepop to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
*sits and thinks a long moment*

For years, I've worked with a company that for a time was reviving little-known plays from the Gilded Age; they weren't all swoony corny melodrama, and some of them were quite fun. Three I can remember off the top of my head;

* From 1895 -- "What Happened to Jones." The plot is a deliciously zany screwball comedy with all sorts of mistaken identity, narrow escapes from police detectives, and plucky young women. The most scandalous thing that happens is the young romantic male lead gets into a spot of trouble for attending a saloon where he tries gambling on a card game and an illegal boxing match, but this is all discussed offscreen; that's where the "police" part comes in. The main character, Jones, is a guy who'd been at the saloon and tagged along with the young romantic lead when they escaped and wants to hide out, but when the romantic lead's mom comes in the room the younger guy introduces Jones as a visiting Bishop. Zany hijinks ensue. ...If memory serves, we were initially on the fence about this one because the plot was fantastic, but the actual writing was a little...meh. (We ended up taking the plot and writing our own script and had an absolute all out blast.)

* From 1914: "It Pays To Advertise." A young entrepreneur wants to show up his father, a soap manufacturer, and go into business for himself rather than join the family business. His friend cooks up an idea -- secretly buy his father's soap wholesale, and repackage it with flashy ad copy.

* I forget when it's from, but -- "Mrs. Bumpstead-Leigh." A socialite family on Long Island has invited Mrs. Bumpstead-Leigh, her mother, and her unmarried sister to stay with them during their "visit from England" -- but little do they know that Mrs. Bumpstead-Leigh and her family are a trio of con artists from Mississippi. Hijinks ensue.

That's actually a good era to be looking at, because the mores of the time would probably spare you from anything too graphic (not that they didn't discuss more earthy things, just that they were more hinted at), and the style of the plays is broad and heightened enough to hold your daughter's attention and be fun to read.

I'll think of more (the only others I can think of right now were the huge dramatic ones -- shows like a 1911 play about Congressional sex scandals or a 1906 play about sugar daddies, and that probably wouldn't work...)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on January 28, 2010

She might enjoy reading the librettos from musicals--then she can listen to the cast recordings, if she wants. I really liked doing this as a kid; it's kind of a gateway drug to theatre.

Some ideas:

Wicked, Hairspray, Into the Woods (the CD includes a booklet with all the lyrics).
posted by castlebravo at 6:58 AM on January 28, 2010

Ah! I found some follow-up info for you:

What Happened To Jones on GoogleBooks.

An archive with different downloadable formats of MRS. BUMPSTEAD-LEIGH.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:03 AM on January 28, 2010

I'm going to be that person. Even though a kid that young isn't going to get all of the intricacies of Shakespeare yet, it's not too early to get hooked on his work. Maybe try one of the comedies first, but Romeo and Juliet is a good gateway because it's so well known and has inspired so many things.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:03 AM on January 28, 2010

Peter Pan?
posted by CarlRossi at 7:03 AM on January 28, 2010

JB Priestley's An Inspector Calls has been recommended for ages 14+, so is a possibility for an advanced eight-year-old reader.
posted by permafrost at 7:05 AM on January 28, 2010

Fools by Neil Simon.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 7:19 AM on January 28, 2010

When I took a class on Modern Drama at age 12 (and yes, 12 is different than 8, but I think most of the plays would still be alright), we read

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Of those, the only one that I'd think a little harder about giving to an 8 year old is The Crucible (it's about the Salem witch trials).

I'd also suggest any of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas (I happen to be selling one of my extra copies of the librettos on Amazon at the moment). They're Victorian, so they're definitely appropriate for children, and they're full of puns and wordplay that an eight year old reading above her grade level will enjoy. As an added bonus, since they're operettas and not straight plays, you can get recordings of performances so she can listen to the songs and dialogue as well.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:26 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Skungpoomery and Old King Cole by the late Ken Campbell might be worth a look.

You've probably thought about this already, but plays (in my opinion) can be much harder to read than novels - there can be quite a big gap between what you see on the page, and the ways it can be brought to life. I'm not saying she won't enjoy them, but she might need more help to see what's going on - whereas in a good novel, the writer does that work.
posted by crocomancer at 7:27 AM on January 28, 2010

I second cmgonzalez's suggestion of Shakespeare; especially if you can read it aloud together.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:27 AM on January 28, 2010

Seconding Gilbert and Sullivan.
posted by josher71 at 7:36 AM on January 28, 2010

When I was in high school, we did a production of James Thurber sketches which I bet an 8 year old bookworm would enjoy reading. Not sure if they were originally in play form, or if they were adapted for the stage, but still--fun stuff!

The production we did was called "A Thurber Carnival". Sorry, don't have the time to track down any sources at the moment, but might be a starting point for you to look.

There's a unicorn in the garden, eating roses!
posted by Sublimity at 7:40 AM on January 28, 2010

Around that age I read Pygmalion and some other Shaw plays, and The Importance of Being Earnest. I guarantee any kid will love the dramatic bits from Macbeth - I memorised them for fun when I was a little older (12). I second reading plays out aloud together, especially if it's Shakespeare. She'll get much more from them and it's a fun thing to do.
posted by tavegyl at 7:41 AM on January 28, 2010

Holy crap, sublimity -- I remember Thurber Carnival from a kids' theater program I did when I was twelve. (I was the unicorn!)

But that's also reminded me of another play that that kids' program did -- a sort of salute to Carl Sandburg. The first act (which is the only one we did) was a sketch/revue format riffing on his shorter works, some of which were whimsically funny, and the second act focused more on his biography of Abraham Lincoln, I think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 AM on January 28, 2010

I think the above-recommended Into the Woods might be a bit too adult for an 8-year-old - even though it's about fairy tales, it's definitely for grown-ups.

Other plays that do come to mind though - Our Town by Thornton Wilder, the play version of Anne of Green Gables, The Putnam County Spelling Bee.
posted by lunasol at 7:49 AM on January 28, 2010

Oh, and Peer Gynt! I wish I'd come across it as a child.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:50 AM on January 28, 2010

Thinking about Shakespeare, these are the plays of his that I think I would have been into as an 8-year-old:
  • Romeo and Juliet: The Queen Mab speech, in particular, was a favorite of mine when I was a kid.
  • As You Like It: The gender bending and all the business of falling in love with the wrong people is fun.
  • The Winter's Tale: "Exit, pursued by a bear." Hilarious.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream: Fairies, donkeys, and Puck, oh my! The Mechanicals are really wondrous fun. You might pair this one with Neil Gaiman's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" from Sandman.
  • The Tempest: The whole thing is magical.

posted by ocherdraco at 8:01 AM on January 28, 2010

And here's a good website with Shakespeare stuff for kids from the Folger Shakespeare Library.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:04 AM on January 28, 2010

At a similar age, my siblings and I had an anthology of 1930s and 40s comedies with Harvey, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Man Who Came To Dinner, You Can't Take It With You, etc., which was a great hit.
posted by nonane at 9:36 AM on January 28, 2010

Arsenic and Old Lace.
posted by hermitosis at 9:48 AM on January 28, 2010

They don't include authors, but the Harwich Junior Theatre has a list of shows they've done, and they've generally had a pretty good eye for plays.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:15 AM on January 28, 2010

Inherit The Wind based on the Scopes trial.

It's pretty easy to read, many humorous/amusing passages, relevant to current events, and offers lots of material for interesting discussions.

You might want to help her with some background info first.

Plus after she's done reading it, you can watch the wonderful film adaptation with Spencer Tracy.
posted by marsha56 at 10:21 AM on January 28, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone - there is a lot of great material to investigate here!
posted by mikepop at 10:58 AM on January 28, 2010

Our Town came to my mind. I did a production of Babes in Toyland with kids that age.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:13 AM on January 28, 2010

A million times yes to Gilbert & Sullivan. I discovered them at maybe 8 or 9 and have loved them ever since, despite a general loathing of all other musical theatre.
posted by elizardbits at 3:06 PM on January 28, 2010

Should you decide to go the G&S route, you'll want to check out The Gilbert & Sullivan Archive (that's a url that I will know by heart for the rest of my life). It has full text of all the libretti, (did I seriously say librettos earlier? Jeez) and MIDIs (yes! MIDIs!) of all the music, among many other wonderful and splendiferous things.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:33 PM on January 28, 2010

A few of the plays may be inappropriate for an 8-year-old (the one that is a play off of David Mamet comes to mind), but All in the Timing has a bunch of really fun short plays. They're just silly one-act things, so if your daughter is looking for more epic stories, these wouldn't work. But they are definitely fun to read out loud with friends or family.
posted by that girl at 5:26 PM on January 28, 2010

Plays of Gods and Men by Lord Dunsany. Interesting, fun fantasy plays in very simple language. He has other volumes also.
posted by supremefiction at 4:14 AM on January 29, 2010

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