Comedic play for class of mostly lower income urban students
July 7, 2013 5:30 PM   Subscribe

So, I am teaching this class that is your typical freshman comp class in a community college, and I am trying to balance inflicting Hamlet on them with some really good contemporary comedic plays. I don't know comedies well at all, frankly, and would love some recommendations.

Looking for fast-paced mixture of low and high comedy, especially plays that are less white America and more urban. I would need to be able to find them on Amazon. I won't know 'til class starts, but typically the class consists of a handful of ESL students, a handful of students from four-year universities who are getting some credits in over the summer, and a handful of students who are returning to get their degree after getting laid off or whatever.

I've had success with Glenngary Glenn Ross, but I tend to get really blank stares with Hamlet. That is of course perhaps my limitations as a teacher, but I do find that my students overall respond to contemporary stuff with a lot more engagement than they do say, Poe.

So, any ideas? Thanks so much in advance!
posted by angrycat to Education (22 answers total)
The motherfucker with the hat? A story of addicts in love. Not as much a comedy as a dramedy, and fairly new. You could introduce it as the Chris Rock play - he was a sponsor of one of the addicts in the broadway version
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 5:44 PM on July 7, 2013

Romeo + Juliet is kind of this.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:56 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

So this isn't exactly modern in as much as it was written in '78 but compared to Shakespeare its practically last week.... Its "deathtrap" by Ira Levin. Its mystery, dark humor, plenty of ridiculous plot twists, a little intrigue and a great last second punchline.

Here's the breakdown:

And its available at both amazon and

Good luck and keep up the wonderful noble work.
posted by chasles at 5:59 PM on July 7, 2013

Possibly too on the nose, but Up the Down Staircase was a wonderful novel, and its stage adaptation could work for your purpose.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:06 PM on July 7, 2013

"American Buffalo" will be a hit if your students liked Mamet before.

"Little Shop of Horrors" is a musical, so I don't know if that fits for you, but it's totally urban about being poor, really.

It doesn't speak to the urban experience of today, but the "Brighton Beach Memoirs" cycle by Neil Simon is always worth a read.
posted by xingcat at 6:12 PM on July 7, 2013

I taught Hamlet to a group of ninth and tenth graders a while back, and I took the liberty of adding Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to the curriculum. They got a huge kick out of it.
posted by valkyryn at 6:32 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Neil LaBute! It's dark but interesting for teens probably. In The Company of Men is likely too dark but I also liked The Shape of Things a lot.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:39 PM on July 7, 2013

Show them the movie 10 Things I Hate About You and then teach The Taming of the Shrew.
posted by erst at 6:41 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

These are contemporary, although not sure how urban it is. However, I think students would relate to it because these are coming of age stories and your average student would still remember this.

Anyway, these plays are also available as radio productions I would also suggest that if you have a class web page, then consider linking the audio so students can access it in another way, especially ESL students.

The first one that was really funny (to me) was Doctor Cerberus, although I can't find the script on amazon.

This one was also humorous, End Days. The script was on amazon.

If Hamlet is painful to them, I would give them extra credit to go see it; as an undergrad, reading plays was meh. But when I finally saw and listened to plays post undergrad, it opened up an entire new world...especially Shakespeare (and Hamlet, for that matter).
posted by Wolfster at 6:47 PM on July 7, 2013

I love David Ives, especially the All in the Timing short plays, if you want to try something pretty light.
posted by mlle valentine at 7:49 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is ultimately a tragedy (because the main characters die at the end) but it has a lot of funny parts to it. And, of course, it derives from Hamlet.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:58 PM on July 7, 2013

If there is a way to get enough copies of Sherman Alexie's Smoke Signals, I would HIGHLY recommend it for this group.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:15 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hamlet is in general, I think, a hard play to teach. The plot is somewhat diffuse and it proceeds, at least to begin with, in an episodic manner; plus, of course, it's just so damn long.

Macbeth moves along at a good deal faster clip.

In general, though, I have to say that even actors are not always all that good at reading plays the way one would read a novel: I've had one semi-famous director tell me, in fact, that the only reason he insists on table reading rehearsals is to make sure everyone in the company has read the whole play through at least once. You can screen a video or, if you're up to it you can perform the whole thing yourself (adding e.g., "but then what does Lady Macbeth have to say to this?" to help signpost.)
posted by La Cieca at 10:16 PM on July 7, 2013

The Motherfucker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Detroit by Lisa D'amour
Sons of the Prophet by Stephen Karam
Tribes by Nina Raine
posted by miles1972 at 11:34 PM on July 7, 2013

ha, these are great ideas, guys, thanks!
(I'm totally checking out that TAL episode about Hamlet/prison, thanks)
posted by angrycat at 6:43 AM on July 8, 2013

On August 13, 2013 a choose-your-own-adventure version of Hamlet will be published. It looks hilarious.
posted by steinwald at 7:06 AM on July 8, 2013

I think what you want is In The Heights.

Here's a list of all the stuff you can get from Amazon. Including the Cast Recording.

Another option might be Rent.

I found that showing the movie first, THEN getting into the text is the best way. Let's remember, Shakespeare wrote for an illiterate audience and his work was meant to be performed, not read.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:32 AM on July 8, 2013

I think some qui Nguyen would fit the bill. I like Fight Girl Battle World the best, but scroll through his play list to see what might suit. Very funny, very 2013, very nerdy, and often moving.
posted by minervous at 1:24 PM on July 8, 2013

My theater director boyfriend suggested Suburbia by Eric Bogosian and The Foreigner by Larry Shue (both available on Amazon), as well as The Motherfucker with the Hat as mentioned above.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 3:53 PM on July 8, 2013

I've recently (as in, within the last few years) changed my teaching approach so that students read as much of the play out loud in class as possible. As several people mentioned above, plays are really not meant to be read on one's own like a novel; they are meant to be performed. I know you are probably a little strapped for time if you are teaching a first year comp class, but I encourage you to have the students take turns reading at least one act out loud together.

Something else I do with my students is have them get in groups and decide how they would physically stage a scene (and then they perform it). It's interesting for the whole class to see the choices each group makes and then have the individual student actors explain why they chose a particular way to deliver a line, or why the group arranged the set or blocked the scene the way they did. Doing this often helps them better understand the characters and the play as a whole.

One of my lit professors did this with our class and it was a great learning experience--I still remember it over 20 years later.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:32 AM on July 9, 2013

Seek ye the plays of Christopher Durang.
posted by wittgenstein at 10:47 AM on July 10, 2013

« Older I need you to go to the mat for me.   |   How long should it take to process a US fiancĂ©... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.