March 14, 2004 5:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a good play to write a term paper on that isn't a play commonly used for such assignments. It'd be nice if it wasn't totally obscure so I could find critical analyses of it, but I don't really want to write about an extremely common one. Any suggestions?
posted by thebabelfish to Education (35 answers total)
Perhaps "Waiting for Godot"?
posted by ruwan at 5:19 PM on March 14, 2004

How about "The Wood Demon," by Anton Chekhov? It's an early version of his more well-known play, "Uncle Vanya." Comparing the two is fascinating.
posted by grumblebee at 5:23 PM on March 14, 2004

Kaufman's You Can't Take It With You is really fun, and because it's fun, I'd expect that it doesn't get "analyzed" much.
posted by weston at 5:24 PM on March 14, 2004

Chekhov also has an unfinished play, which has been adapted by several other playwrights, each with his own take on it. It's sometimes known as "Platonov." Michael Frayn has a version of it called "Wild Honey."
posted by grumblebee at 5:24 PM on March 14, 2004

Jean Cocteau has a really interesting adaptation of "Oedipus" called "The Infernal Machine."
posted by grumblebee at 5:25 PM on March 14, 2004

Response by poster: All of those plays look good, but I forgot to mention that the playwright is limited to being American (*sigh*) being as the course is about American literature. Sorry for forgetting that.
posted by thebabelfish at 5:28 PM on March 14, 2004

Response by poster: (Although I see Kaufman is American.)
posted by thebabelfish at 5:31 PM on March 14, 2004

Hmm, I took this literature course once and one of the plays studied was Bogosian's "Talk Radio". Later it was made into an Oliver Stone film. Should fit your criteria.
posted by bobo123 at 5:42 PM on March 14, 2004

"Once upon a Midnight", John Astin's one man show inspired by Poe's life.
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:47 PM on March 14, 2004

I nearly forgot: you could also consider A Tree Grows In Brooklyn
or A Thousand Clowns.
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:56 PM on March 14, 2004

Eugene Oneill would be perfect for you. He was American and wrote a huge number of plays in almost every style, from stark realism to highly experiemental. Some have been written about over and over, like "The Iceman Cometh" and "Long Day's Journey Into Night," but you could focus on a more obscure one, like "Mourning Becomes Electra".

Another interesting choice would be Philip Barry, who wrote "The Philadelphia Story" (done to death), but also a lot of other (generally very good) more obscure plays, like "Holiday."
posted by grumblebee at 5:57 PM on March 14, 2004

Tom Stoppard does wonderful stuff that is regularyly performed in Britain. I'm sure you could find analysis in the popular press.
posted by jmgorman at 6:38 PM on March 14, 2004

Talley's Folly, by Lanford Wilson. It's actually part of a trilogy, but that one's my favorite.

Also, A.R. Gurney has a number of wonderful plays out there -- I like The Dining Room.
posted by JanetLand at 6:44 PM on March 14, 2004

I'd go with David Rabe's Hurlyburly, Neal Bell's Two Small Bodies, or David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow, though the latter may have been thoroughly scrutinized already.

If you've got access to a DVD player, the release of Hurlyburly has two top-notch commentaries on it, one by feminist "social commentor" Janet Brown, Sean Penn, and David Rabe. The other by Rabe and Anthony Drazen (who directed the film).

Note that the film is a bit different from the play though so you must read the play.

Two Small Bodies was made into a film by Beth B, with Fred Ward and Suzy Amis, if I recall correctly. I don't believe it's on dvd though it is on video--from what I remember it follows the text exactly.

If you're interested in American theatre outside of just the credit, all of the above are woth reading/seeing/watching in and of themselves.

I also highly recommend David Ball's Backwards and Forwards as an exceptional text on understading plays. If you can get your head around Ball's concepts you'll surpass your classmates' analyses for sure.
posted by dobbs at 6:48 PM on March 14, 2004

Response by poster: All of these suggestions are great! (I love AskMefi.) Now I have to start going through all of them: first so I can pick one, and second so I can make sure to at some point see them all.

dobbs, thanks for the book suggestion as well; I'll have to look at it (as I'm sure it would not only be interesting, but also useful for future classes).
posted by thebabelfish at 6:57 PM on March 14, 2004

Tad Mosel's All The Way Home (based on James Agee's novel A Death in the Family).
posted by grabbingsand at 6:59 PM on March 14, 2004

School for Scandal, by Sheridan.
posted by amberglow at 7:04 PM on March 14, 2004

oops--just saw the american about Sex, the Mae West sensation/scandal?
posted by amberglow at 7:06 PM on March 14, 2004

Stoppard's Arcadia rather than the supercommon Waiting for Godot. It's a gold mine.

Mishima's Modern Noh Plays... or Genet, though that's perhaps too common.
posted by ifjuly at 7:09 PM on March 14, 2004

I don't know how common it is for this type of assignment, but my favorite American play is "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" by Edward Albee. I stage managed a production of it in college and I never got tired of the dialogue. It was made into a pretty faithful movie starring Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. (The DVD has a nice commentary track by cinematographer Haskell Wexler.) It's dark, funny, sad, and vicious, and you certainly wouldn't run out of ideas to talk about.
posted by web-goddess at 7:10 PM on March 14, 2004

Why did I just put Waiting for Godot?! I meant Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, of course. Oops. I know my Beckett from my Stoppard, I promise.

Others I just thought of: Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey or maybe something from David Hare.
posted by ifjuly at 7:10 PM on March 14, 2004

I have no idea how "done" it is (probably quite), but Thorton Wilder's Our Town is a fantastic existential play.
posted by The God Complex at 7:22 PM on March 14, 2004

FYI: Tom Stoppard is British, not American.
posted by grumblebee at 7:48 PM on March 14, 2004

I love Tennessee Williams, so I'll nominate "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Since that's too traditional, though, why not a modern playwright like David Lindsay Abaire ("Fuddy Meers" is a great play) or Neil LaBute ("The Shape of Things" for example). Even more edgy and interesting: try Edward Albee's "The Goat." It's about bestiality and incest. What a great paper!
posted by adrober at 9:22 PM on March 14, 2004

I've always liked Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth"
posted by jpoulos at 9:47 PM on March 14, 2004

Not sure if this is too commonly done, but anything by Wendy Wasserstein is good, particularly "The Heidi Chronicles."
posted by PrinceValium at 10:51 PM on March 14, 2004

Never read that jpoulos, but since I liked Our Town so much maybe I'll check it out after I get through everything else I'm trying to read. Thanks.
posted by The God Complex at 11:00 PM on March 14, 2004

Another suggestion: the 1928 play Machinal by journalist/playwright Sophie Treadwell, which was inspired by the sensational murder trial of Ruth Snyder, is quite interesting from a number of different perspectives - philosophical, historical, geopolitical, feminist. It could also be interesting to compare it to "The Postman Always Rings Twice" the novel and play later written by James Cain (also American), which was inspired by the same trial.

From here: "this expressionistic play aroused considerable attention in Russia. It's heroine, referred to as the Young Lady, is stultified by a banal society and a mechanized world...

When the play opened in 1928 one review called it 'a tragedy of submission.' Written in an expressionistic style, the play, Treadwell once said, is about "a young woman, ready, eager for life, for love...but deadened, squeezed, crushed by the machinelike quality of the life surrounding."
posted by taz at 12:58 AM on March 15, 2004

I'll add three to the pile: Pvt. Wars, Lonestar, or Laundry and Bourbon by James McClure.

I know Pvt. Wars best out of those three - it's a one-act centering on three Vietnam vets who've been institutionalized. A comedy, but with a serious undertone.
posted by Chanther at 2:11 AM on March 15, 2004

House of Blue Leaves by Guare might be good too.
posted by amberglow at 4:51 AM on March 15, 2004

Sam Shepard's True West is American and fun but with depth to it.
posted by skylar at 5:12 AM on March 15, 2004

"Aunt Dan and Lemon" by Wallace Shawn would be interesting too. He's the little guy who drinks the iocaine powder in The Princess Bride; but he's also the son of famous New Yorker editor William Shawn, and his play is a disturbing practical defense of Nazism.
posted by adrober at 9:02 AM on March 15, 2004

Response by poster: All of these suggestions are great! I'm gonna pick a night and go through the ones I haven't yet. Thanks everyone!
posted by thebabelfish at 4:53 PM on March 15, 2004

Calderon de la Barca's Life as a Dream is a celebrated Spanish play that i had never encountered in my studies before a few weeks ago. I just wrote a scorching term paper contrasting it with Plato's Cave Allegory; if i had more time/length to work with i could have probably snuck some Oedipus commentary in there as well (as the play centers on a child prophesied to destroy his family / the nation). Great paper-fodder, and a superior read (i read an Eric Bentley edited translation of it).
posted by krisis at 5:20 PM on March 15, 2004

May Day. George Chapman. 1611 (I think). It is possible to read all the critical work done on this play along with all of Chapman's other work. Any contribution you make to the field will sustain a very high chance of being published.
posted by Grod at 6:00 PM on March 15, 2004

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