Candida Gubbins and Peter Bowles in The Browning Version, at Theatre Royal Bath in 2009.
22. by Terence Rattigan
Finish date: 18 April 2022
Bad news: At the time of his death in 1977, Terence Rattigan was barely remembered by the theater-going public, yet 30 years earlier he was considered one of Britain’s most important playwrights. Unfortunately his plays have been swept aside.
Good news: Rattigan creates an unforgettable character Mr. Andrew Crocker-Harris, master at a boys boarding school. Ill health is forcing Andrew to retire from teaching.
He shows a measure of resilience and takes life’s disappointments in his stride with good grace and an unassuming humility.
Good news: Again the title of a play or book must be the center of the story. The very moving scene between the student Taplow and Mr. Crocker is unforgettable.
The “Browning version” is the translation made by Robert Browning of the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, which the teacher Mr. Crocker-Harris is having his students read in the original Greek. One of the students gives a copy of Browning’s version to Mr. Crocker-Harris as a gift upon the latter’s leaving the school.
John Tallow (16 yr ) student at boarding school
Frank Hunter (40s yr ) master
Millie Crocker-Harris (50s yr ) wife; cold indifference to the feelings of others
Andrew Crocker-Harris (50s yr ) – feels himself a failure, but will not beg school for pension…
Dr. Frobisher (60s) Headmaster
Peter Gilbert (30s yr) master replacing Mr. Crocker
Mrs. Gilbert (30syr ) wife
Good news: Tone in the play is brutally honest. I winced at times how cruel a wife (Mrs. Crocker) could be. But Andrew is triumph. He is unwilling to delegate blame or to engage in self pity when things go awry, and they do go awry! Very impressed by his ability to dramatize the world of hurt that human beings can manage to live with.
Personal: I didn’t expect very much from this play. It was reserved in manner and strict decorum. Who says the British “stiff-upper lip” is boring? This play packed a VERY subtle punch to the gut! Rattigan has a profound understanding of the human heart.
If you can find a revival of one of his plays I would urge you to see it. Rattigan is a master of understatement. You can always find TR’s plays on Amazon… or even in the library. The Deep Blue Sea , Separate Tables and The Winslow Boy – are now established classics.
??. by Harold Pinter
Finish date: 15 February 2022
Good news: Two ageing writers: Hirst is a wealthy but crippled by his memories
…early stages of dementia. Spooner re-invents himself from memory as he goes along. The two old men reminisce about cottages they may have had. Pinter mocks social privilege of the upper class in England The lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game. when two servants, Briggs and Foster enter the room. The relationships among these men are exposed, with trouble and hilarity. It’s a bleak, disturbing, small, intense and bitter play also very funny!
Good news: Style: Witty banter; awkward pauses (intentional to “wake up the audience”.
Language is used as a weapon. Memory…or lack of is not just as a dramatic device ….but as a key to understanding of the play. Title and end of play: No Man’s Land (reference to dementia)
Strong point: this play whose dialogue is ‘fueled with alcohol’
It will make you laugh….and touch a heart string.
Strong point: Language is a like a cross-word puzzle…at times confusing.
Weak point: it must be seen on stage…and preferably with
…great actors like McKellen and Stewart!
What did I learn by reading this play?
Literary device: subtext
Pinter, however, preferred to focus on the subtext and tension beneath dialogue.
Example subtext in No Man’s Land:
Spooner asks Hirst if he often hangs “around Hampstead Heath”
and the pub Jack Straw’s Castle.
Both are notorious for homosexual activity in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Something one might miss…but this subtext is there.
23. by Theodore Ward (no photo)
Finish date: 11 February 2022
Bad news: This play was described as one of the most
powerful African American plays on the 1930s. So why didn’t I like it?
Act 1 – too slow, no real set up for emerging conflict…just introduction to characters.
Act 2 – scene 2,3 finally explode in race/family conflict, inter-black prejudice…but it is too little too late for this reader. Yes I noticed themes in 1938…are still relevant today….blacks cut off from opportunity: Vic’s son Les: his scholarship cancelled b/c of skin color but that was not enough to create an emotional connection to the play as…I had with Raisin in the Sun (Lorraine Hanesberry)
Act 3 -…just fizzles out.
Good news: Interested in African American drama? There are better plays to read.
Raisin in the Sun (Lorraine Hansberry)
Fences (August Wilson)
Personal: The play was relevant in its time (depression era)..offering an exact record of its times. But it was a somber, depressing play. Weak point: There was a constant heavy-handed leftist rhetoric, tone. Vic is Marcus Garvey follower, Pizer (Jewish student, friend of his son Les) promotes socialism. Weak point: The play occasionally shows its age: the family’s horror at the elder daughter’s prostituting herself to a white man seems overdone…and the climax is melodramatic. (Act 2:2,3) Strong emotional appeal with characters shouting and and threatening each other (Vic vs mother-in-law and wife) Weak point: covering a 10-year span from 1922 to 1932 In Act 3 there is a 8,5 year jump, too far to feel like a compact “problem play”. Probably the play needs to be seen on stage…and not read in bed at 10 pm. The sparks that must fly between Vic, Ella, Martha, Dan….that would salvage this story.
British actor Adrian Lester, husband of playwright Lolita Chakrabarti
by Lolita Chakrabarti (no photo)
Finish date: 25 January 2022
Bad news: Nothing to mention….
Good news The title kept ringing in my ear …what is the link between “Red Velvet” and what I’m reading. It is what young Ira sees viewing plays from the high balcony of the Park Theatre in NYC…what we all see when visiting a great theatre…the red curtain! “…something about velvet, a deep promise of what’s to come”. Aldrige as a child was “…under a spell at the back of the gods (actors), a sea of red below filled with expectations of greatness.”
Good news: Structure made the play easy to follow. I always put the scenes in order before I read a play…it helps me immerse myself into the world of the actors…giving me a hint where the play is going. Chakrabarti bookends the play: scene 1 with scene 7
It looks like too many characters..but in most scenes it is a group of actors discussing the play they are to perform, very readable.
Good news: In just a few short scenes ….Ms Chakarbarti conveys to the reader what it is like to be a black actor. What is it like to have your acting skills reduced to the color of your skin. This play is based on the little-known, but true story of Ira Aldridge.
Good news: Message: politics in theatre…in spite of all the obstacles in 1833 London……talent will always shine through. Issue: a black actor touching, fighting and killing Desdemona in front of a shocked British public and the theatre board members.
Good news: The playwright is very subtle alluding to the new Salvery Abolition Act (1833). We sense the political unrest in London through the actor’s dialogue.
Parliament was about to abolish slavery in most British colonies.
This mirrors the “unrest” on stage as well!
Personal: This was how a play should be written..from the inside. Lolita Chakabarti is a trained actress at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and knows what an actor and the audience need. This was a delight to read. If you look at the cover…it is Adrian Lester another RADA actor, he starred in the play and is …Lolita Chakabarti’s husband.
16. by Thornton Wilder
Finish date: 19 January 2022
Bad news: The plays felt like homework, outdated lacking in any kind of spark of enjoyment. Every time I started a new play …it was only to get it done and hope the end of the book would put me out of my misery.
Bad news: I still had enough enthusiasm after a good lunch… to start the last 12 one act plays. I only like 2! So it was a very low return on investment. I literally fell asleep reading part II.
Good news: Stage directions: stage appearance, characters arrangement alone or in clusters…that was the best part of the plays I read. I needed some visual to get my through my reading. I will share one for Pullman Car Hiawatha by Harry Feiner Theater Design It helped me so much to understand what was going on in the play. IMO this was the best play in the book because it was so unconventional. Strange play….but oh, what a talent Wilder must have been to create this dialogue!! I liked Wilder’s use of a stage manager that breaks the 4th wall and speaks to the audience.
Personal These are not plays you can just jump into….there is a lot of allegory embedded in Thornton’s writing. Try to at least read a summary of the play beforehand. Here is an excellent resource for many of Wilder’s works…all in one website! The Wilder Society
Thornton Wilder….who mentions his name when asked for 3 great American playwrights? Not me! The spotlight is always on Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller. But Wilder is one of the greatest writers of art of allegorical narrative…and that is always difficult to understand and digest. Malcolm Cowley (literary critic 1898-1989) reveals: “(Wilder is) one of the toughest and most complicated minds in contemporary America.” Amen to that!
We all have read Wilder’s play Our Town and he novel The Bridge of San Luis Ray (Pulitzer Prize 1928)..in high-school …so if you’ve read them there is no reason to venture into the one-act plays in this book.
- Playwright: Ayad Akhtar (1970)
- Title: Disgraced
- Genre: play (1 act; 4 scenes)
- Opening night: January 2012
- Trivia: Nominated Tony Award for Best Play 2015
- Trivia: Winner Pulitzer Prize Drama 2013
- Monthly reading plan
- #ReadDiversely 2021
Quote from The Economist:
- Akhtar’s tales of assimilation
- “are as essential today as the work of
- Saul Bellow, James Farrell, and Vladimir Nabokov
- were in the 20th century
- …in capturing the drama of the immigrant experience.“
- Well, this gives you an idea where Ayad Aktar stands compared
- to the great writers of the 20th C!
- A Pulitzer Prize winning play
- …always needs to be researched before reading.
- I discovered so much that otherwise would have passed me by
- Character development: fury –> rage –> violence (Amir, Isaac)
- Characters represent different parts of society:
- Amir: Pakistani muslim lawyer; apostate, abandons Islam
- Isaac: Jewish museum curator; defends Judaism, Israel
- Emily: American privileged artist (wife Amir); fervently embraces Islamic art
- Abe: Pakistani muslim (nephew Amir); zealot; uncompromising belief in Islam
- Jory: African-American lawyer (wife Isaac) objects to misogynistic Islam
- Plot: Volatile combination of characters at dinner party
- …that needs just a spark to explode (read play and discover spark!)
- Timeline: opening scene, 2 weeks later (SC2), 3 months later (SC3), 6 months later (SC 4)
- Location: Amir and Emily’s apartment, East Side New York City
- Spin-in-the-web: Islamic faith, it connects all the actors
- Themes: Islamophobia – racism – tribalism
Strong point: literary device dramatic irony
- Aktar arranges the dialogue and exit/entrances of characters
- so the audience knows more
- …than the character they are watching on stage!
- #Classic way to create tension and suspense
Strong point: title “Disgraced”
- The title “Disgraced” is the core message of the play.
- What it feels like….and what people do as reaction.
- Amir learn about 3 shocks in his life:
- back round check at law-firm, wife’s affair,
- …NO promotion as full partner at work
- He feels “disgraced”.
- What happens?
- Amir reacts with “kick-the-dog effect.”
- Anger and frustration leads him to lash out at innocent people….
- I’m trying to read 50 Best Plays of the last 100 years.
- But there are many plays in the 21st C that are not on this list.
- I expect Disgraced to be one on the best of the 2000s
- I don’t see many “plays” on reading lists.
- Try to think of a play as a “surgically crafted” novella
- …extremely accurate and precise.
- Author: Tom Murphy (1935-2018)
- Title:The Wake
- Genre: play
- Published: 1998
- T. Murphy died on 15 May 2018 (obituary)
- Reading time: 2 hours
- List of Challenges 2020
- Monthly plan
- The Wake is set in the 1990s.
- Vera is a lonely, exiled prostitute
- returning from New York to her native
- …town to mourn her grandmother.
- But she has also inherited a family hotel
- …which her siblings covet.
- When Vera learns the true
- …circumstances of grandmother’s death.
- she decides on an unusual course of action.
- Now, after reading this introduction I wanted to
- find out what did Vera really do with her hotel?
- That was my only smart move.
- The play was a slapdash of arguments,
- singing, swearing and a grande mélange à trois
- …to shock her family and the reader.
- The play was a mess on paper.
- I can’t imagine having to sit it out in a theatre.
- At least I could read it with a toothless comb.
- No, Tom Murphy can do better.
- Here are two of his plays worth reading!
- Alice Trilogy and Famine.
- The kindest thing I can say about this play is
- enjoy the journey, but realize
- you’re going to roll your eyes
- in disbelief a lot on the way.
- Author: Oscar Wilde
- Title: Woman of No Importance
- Premièred : 19 April 1893
- Genre: “skeleton-in-the-closet” play
- Reading time: 2 hours
- List of Challenges 2020
- Monthly plan
- Woman of No Importance satirizes upper-class English society
- at the end of the 19th C.
- It takes place, for the most part, in the homes of
- the rich and powerful, where Lord, Ladies,
- and Archdeacons socialize and gossip about their contemporaries.
- In this play the gossip is about Mrs. Arbuthnot
- …a woman of no importance.
- How many of us have this play in the bookcase
- …in The Complete Works of Oscar Wide?
- I have overlooked Wilde’s plays
- ….and I am the lesser for it.
- There’s a difference between the play as cultural work of art
- …and the play as entertainment,
- …in the same way that there’s a
- difference between a classical symphony and a musical.
- No, this play does not have the
- …gravitas of Death of a Salesman (A. Miller)
- …but is does have the emotion of the heart of a man (Oscar Wilde)
- …who has known joy….but also great suffering.
- The play touched a heart-string.
- #Bravo…Oscar Wilde
- Playwright: Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)
- Title: A Doll’s House
- Genre: play
- Opening night: 1879
- Reading time: 30-45 min
- List of Challenges 2020
- Monthly reading plan
- This was a very easy play to read.
- The dialogue is …
- clean, simple, evocative, alive and easily spoken.
- In Act III when Nora finally finds her voice she
- pummels her husband….who can’t handle the truth!
- #MustRead classic play!
- This play is an audience favorite:
- Film adaptations with Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Jane Fonda and Juliet Stevenson
- Stage production is planned June 2020 London with Jessica Chastain.
- At the moment a spin-off is on stage in London.
- Nora: A Doll’s House –> Young Vic Theatre in London.
- Stef Smith’s adaptation of the Ibsen play sends the title character on a time-traveling mission,
- exploring how far women’s rights have progressed in the last 100 years.
- The play re-frames the drama in three different time periods:
- the women’s suffrage movement,
- the Swinging ’60s in London, and
- present day.
- The play was recently named a finalist for the 2020 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.
Structure: Three act play:
Act 1: exposition (married life, Christine returns)
Act 2: rising action (Nora’s secret is discovered!)
Act 3: climax and resolution occur simultaneously (Nora…walks out the door with her baggage!).
- This created a sensation in 19th C Royal Theatre Denmark on 21 December 1879!
- Ibsen broke with the traditional well-made play structure.
- The well-made play from 19th C first codified by French dramatist Eugène Scribe
- …with 5 equal parts in 5 acts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement.
- Problem play…
- …character Nora is in conflict with a social issue or institution ( marriage)
- Ibsen presents in A Doll’s House the
- treatment of women (..as unequal)
- particularly the entrapment of women …in marriage
- in a very realistic manner.
Timeline: 3 days
- The play begins on Christmas Eve and
- concludes the day after Christmas… the 26th.
- Nora and Torvald (married)
- Christine (BFF)
- Nils – employee at Torvald’s bank
- Dr Rank (family friend)
Quickscan: (…no spoilers)
- — The institution of marriage was sacrosanct in 19TH C
- — This play was highly controversial and elicited sharp criticism.
- — Nora Helmer gains the reader’s empathy.
- — Nora’s change: sheltered 19th C child wife….to mature woman who finds her voice
- — Theme: woman trapped in a patriarchal society (…loveless marriage)
- — Foils: Nora —> Christien (friend); Torvard (husband) —> Nils (employee)
- — Foils: partners Nora and Tovard —> partners Christine and Nils
- — Symbol: most important is the Christmas tree —> beautiful, admired, decorated
- …parallel with Nora. During the play the tree loses it’s splendour, ornaments as does Nora
- …appearing in a bedraggled state.
Nora and Tovald:
NOT honest with each other
NO respect for each other
KEEP secrets (…at least Nora does…)
UNEQUALS – man controles and is above wife
NO true love
Christine and Nils —> exactly the opposite!
YES honest with each other
YES respect for each other
NO kept secrets
Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close
- Playwright: Tom Stoppard (1937)
- Title: The Real Thing
- Genre: play
- Opening night: 1982
- Trivia: Tony Award for Best Play 1984
- Trivia: Tony Award for Best Revival Play 2000
- List of Challenges 2020
- Monthly reading plan
- Playwright Henry (J. Irons) and
- ….actress Annie (G. Close) fall in love
- while cheating on their spouses.
- They then marry and cheat on each other.
- Core message:
- Reality catches up with those who ignore it (2 married couples).
- Art (playwriting) is no longer impossible imaginings
- …but what is really happening.
- — investigating adultry
- — questioning the nature of true love
- Title: The Real Thing…finding “the real thing” in second marriages
- Type play: semi-autobiographical…Tom Stoppard is divorced and remarried.
- Literary device Stoppard uses a theatrical device, the play-within-a-play.
- I am trying to read 50 Best Plays of the last 100 years.
- The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard is nr. 20 on the list.
- Characters stumble to enlightenment….
- but realize that marriage is the ties that bind
- …and strangle.
- Dialogue is a combination of
- …chit-chat and philosophical discussion
- on the nature of true love.
- The writing is interesting, but a bit belabored
- …Stoppard is trying too hard to be clever.
- Probably The Real Thing
- …must be seen on the stage.
- It won 2 Tony Awards
- …so Stoppard must be doing something right.
- Still it is ….not my kind of play.