Who are the best playwrights of the last fifteen years or so?
March 26, 2011 8:03 AM   Subscribe

What are the best plays written in the last fifteen years?

I like to read plays, but I've only ever read modern classics--stuff by Williams, Miller, O'Neill, etc. I love Tony Kushner, but he's the only active playwright I'm familiar with (Besides Sam Shepard, who I don't much care for). Who else should I know, and which of their plays "read well" on the page, to a reader who isn't likely to see a stage production of the work?
posted by prior to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Mamet's awesome, though his best work is more like 30 years old. "Oleanna" was 15-ish though and that's the most visceral reaction I ever had from reading a play.
posted by meadowlark lime at 8:05 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Pillowman, by Martin McDonagh.
Bug, by Tracy Letts.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:36 AM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Letts' Superior Donuts and August Osage County are also in print.

Lynn Nottage
posted by brujita at 8:39 AM on March 26, 2011

I really, really liked reading Proof by David Auburn almost more than I've enjoyed reading other recent plays.
posted by General Malaise at 8:40 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think the list of Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists is a great place to start on this quest. I would give an extra shout for Adam Rapp's "Red Light Winter".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:44 AM on March 26, 2011

Definitely Martin McDonagh - anything by him would be great.

Sarah Kane wasn't the most readable of playwrights, but she's, yeah. Just go read Blasted or something. (Note: I've not read any of her work on the page, only seen it performed. But DAMN.)
posted by Sara C. at 8:58 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks (on the Pulitzer list)

Copenhagen, by Michael Frayn, has interesting staging when performed, but is also a good read. And there's a movie.
posted by Gorgik at 9:02 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's just a hair over 15 years, but Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:16 AM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

If you like formally adventurous yet political playwrighting, Suzan-Lori Parks is a great choice. Fuckin' A is probably my favorite play in this period, but the Broadway hit Topdog/Underdog is more accessible in a Becketian sort of way.
When it comes out in print, everyone should read and/or produce A. Rey Pamatmat's play "Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them," which is my favorite new play since I saw the awesome production at Actor's Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival last month.
I can make a few plays-in-translation suggestions too, if you want them (memail me).
posted by Mngo at 10:41 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

As someone who produces theater for a living, it makes me a little sad to think of people just reading plays - it's like staring at sheet music for "A Love Supreme" instead of listening to John Coltrane. That being said, here are some plays and playwrights that have blown my mind.

(Disclosures: I've produced or adapted many of these for performance on public radio, so my list might have some internal bias. I've bolded titles that are my personal favorites. And yes, I've stretched a little beyond 15 years. More on that below.)

Jon Robin Baitz, A Fair Country + Mizlansky/Zilinsky + The Substance of Fire + The Paris Letter + Other Desert Cities
Stephen Belber, Tape
Lee Blessing, A Walk In The Woods + Going to St. Ives
Stephen Adly Guirgis, Our Lady of 121st Street + Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train
Moisés Kaufman, The Laramie Project + 33 Variations + Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
Bryony Lavery, Frozen
Warren Leight, Side Man
John Logan, Never the Sinner
Kenneth Lonergan, This Is Our Youth + Lobby Hero + The Starry Messenger
Joe Penhall, Blue/Orange + Some Voices
Yasmina Reza, 'Art' + God of Carnage
Eric Simonson, Fake + Work Song: Three Views of Frank Lloyd Wright
Roger Guenveur Smith, A Huey P. Newton Story + The Watts Towers Project
Tom Stoppard, The Coast of Utopia + Arcadia + Rock'n'Roll
Hugh Whitemore, Pack of Lies + Breaking the Code

And there's a huge gap between the likes of Tennesee Williams and works of the last 15 years. You'd be missing out on amazing work by folks like Athol Fugard, Alan Ayckbourn, Tom Stoppard, Ariel Dorfman, Israel Horovitz, Joyce Carol Oates, D.L. Coburn, Lanford Wilson, and so many others... the 1980s in particular produced a great number of breathtaking plays which deserve your love.

In addition to the Pulitzers (mentioned above), you might also check the Drama Desk, Tony, and Olivier Awards.
posted by mykescipark at 10:47 AM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt" reads well on the page, I'd add that to the lists above.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 11:29 AM on March 26, 2011

David Hare, esp for me Skylight, which was first staged just about fifteen years ago.
posted by philipy at 5:02 PM on March 26, 2011

There are a lot of great answers here. Although it's a little over the 15 year mark I'd also add Caryl Churchill- The Skriker, Top Girls, Cloud 9 and Mad Forest. Also (more recently) Sarah Ruhl- In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play, Eurydice, and The Clean House and Lynn Nottage's Ruined. I also think Neil LaBute's work can be fun-ish to read but once you're hip to what he's getting at it over and over again it can get dark to the point of becoming tedious- but try Wrecks and Bash (a series of 3 short plays).
posted by Thin Lizzy at 5:14 PM on March 26, 2011

Are you looking specifically for Anglo-Saxon works, or would you be interested in plays from other parts of the world? If you are, I would suggest these playwrights (most are from here in Quebec (French originally), some international)

- Michel Tremblay is one of the most important playwrights in Quebec's history, and you've probably heard of "Les Belles Soeurs" (The Sisters-in-Law). Even if most of his theatre production is before the time period you're looking for (1960s-1980s), some of his plays, like "Hosanna" or "À toi pour toujours, ta Marie-Lou"(Forever Yours, Marie-Lou) are beautiful and still incredibly actual.

-I love Wajdi Mouawad. His plays generally mix a realistic, contemporary setting with mysterious/symbolic/fantastical elements that recall myths. His writing is also really poetic (in a contemporary way, not a "meter and rhymes" way). I would suggest "Incendies" (Scorched) or "Forêts" (Forests). You may have heard of Incendies because a film adaptation has been made last year and was nominated as Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards.

-If you understand québécois French and haven't read "Vie et mort du Roi boiteux", by Jean-Pierre Ronfard, definitely do, it's one of the most fun plays to read (and see).

-If you like dark plays: Lars Noren, Sarah Kane, ...

-Like Sticherbeast, I would also suggest The Pillowman

I thought I could come up with more suggestions but a lot aren't translated yet or are before the time you are looking for. And I think what I'm seeing and liking mostly at the time are creations. I also can't seem to think of any international contemporary authors right now. Claude Gauvreau, Réjean Ducharme, Michel-Marc Bouchard or Normand Chaurette are all great French-Canadian playwrights, and the last two are still active, but what I would suggest to you was written between 1960-1980-ish. Still great authors that you should definitely look up if you don't know, and you can email me for play suggestions if you'd like.

Apart from Hosanna and The Pillowman (which I have both saw produced, though), I have read all these plays, and I can tell you they read well :)

Hope these inspired you :)
posted by kitsuloukos at 11:58 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

It exceeds your 15 year threshold, but Picasso at the Lapin Agile is a fantastic play about the imaginary meeting between Picasso and Einstein before each one's groundbreaking work at the turn of the 20th century.
posted by VT@MU at 5:50 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I studied playwriting in college, and for the longest time all I read were plays. Here are some of my favorite authors:
Tina Howe
Wallace Shawn
Naomi Wallace
Naomi Iizuka
Mac Wellman
Judith Thompson
Daniel MacIvor
David Ives
David Lindsay-Abaire
Terrence McNally
Edward Albee
Erik Ehn
Jane Martin
Nicky Silver
Paula Vogel
posted by cottoncandybeard at 7:14 AM on March 28, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your suggestions, all! I'm going to try a lot of these, starting with the Pillowman, which seems to be a big favorite.
posted by prior at 6:58 PM on March 28, 2011

If you get on with McDonagh, The Lieutenant of Inishmor is another by him that reads well.

I'm going to echo those above who say that you should plug the gap between your current bookshelves and your intended reading jag because otherwise you're going to miss amazing stuff by Tom Stoppard (Arcadia), Caryl Churchill (Serious Money) and Bryony Lavery (Frozen).

Now for the last fifteen years...

Dennis Kelly is amazing. Try Love and Money, Orphans or Taking Care of Baby. (There's a reason everybody was so surprised by the selected writing team for the RSC's last family Christmas musical. Prior to Matilda Tim Minchin had never written a song without the word fuck in it and Dennis Kelly had never written a play that wasn't soul-tarnishingly bleak.)

There was a movement towards verbatim theatre in your chosen time period that you should check out. I was particularly moved by the Everyman's Unprotected.

Off in continental Europe there's Joel Pommerat's Cet Enfant, Lutz Hubner's Ehrensache and Niklas Radstrom's De Onda all of which read well in translation.

Back in the UK, there's Chimps by Simon Block, S27 by Sarah Grochala, Notes to Future Self by Lucy Caldwell, The Author by Tim Crouch, The Weir by Conor McPherson and 2000 Feet Away by Anthony Weigh.

You might also want to look up works by some of the recent winners of new writing competitions. The Bruntwood, The Verity Bargate, The Whiting, The Alfred Fagon and Protect The Human are all good starting points for this side of the pond.

God, looking back at that suggested reading, it feels like I'm giving you a direct glimpse of my id or something. I am apparently a much bigger fan of plays that are darkly funny or just plain dark than I realised.
posted by the latin mouse at 1:35 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

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