Thursday, May 19, 2011

120 Influences, Part 4: Dramatists

  1. Edward Albee: He is a student of language, an admirer of our dark side, and a master of dramatic tension. Recommended are The Zoo Story, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Tiny Alice, A Delicate Balance, All Over, Three Tall Women, The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, and Occupant.

  2. Anton Chekov: You might need to reread the first act of his plays and keep a scorecard to link the characters with their motivations, dialogue, and actions, but the experience is well worth the effort. His most widely read and seen plays--and for good reasons--are The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard.

  3. Horton Foote: The mythical Wharton, Texas serves as the setting of many of Foote's plays. He made an enormous mark in the Golden Age of Television with 30- and 60-minute teleplays, such as The Trip to Bountiful, and in film, with the adapted screenplay of To Kill a Mockingbird and the orginal screenplay of Tender Mercies, both Oscar winnersw for him. But his 60+ plays are priceless, starting with his 9-play Orphan's Home Cycle (Roots in a Parched Ground, Convicts, Lily Dale, The Widow Claire, Courtship, Valentine's Day, 1918, Cousins, and The Death of Papa).

  4. David Mamet: This Chicago native can make profound statements about who we are from seemingly random conversations. His imagination can be brutal and his dialogue vulgar, but Mamet is a consummate artist of the stage. Try American Buffalo, Edmond, Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, Oleanna, and Race.

  5. Eugene O'Neill: The Father of American Drama. It all starts with him, and here is a partial list of his 50+ plays: Beyond the Horizon, Anna Christie, The Hairy Ape, Desire Under the Elms, Strange Interlude, Mourning Becomes Electra, Ah, Wilderness!, The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten.

  6. Harold Pinter: Something is always happening that between the lines or about to happen of Pinter's plays. Relationships between people, ideas, words, and actions

  7. William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, King Lear and 30 more plays are what world considers the standard by which to measure every other play. No argument.

  8. Sam Shepard: One of the most produced playwrights in American history, Shepard is a poet of the rocker, the nomad, and the West. Seeing or reading Action, Buried Child, Curse of the Starving Class, True West, Fool for Love, and A Lie of the Mind will make believers, as will watching the Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas, for which he wrote the screenplay.

  9. Tennessee Williams: He never stopped working as a playwright, poet, fiction writer, and essayist, even when he was no longer the darling of the stage. He did not care how small the theater was, as long as he continued producing. The author of The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, The Rose Tattoo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Orpheus Descending, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Night of the Iguana, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, and 70 more short and long plays.

  10. August Wilson: His Pittsburgh Cycle, one play per decade of the twentieth century about the African-American experience, is the greatest achievement of American drama. He did not simply write ten great plays; he exposed the roots of a culture like no anthropologist, historian, psychologist, or sociologist could. Read Wilson's work not in order of composition, but in order of chronology within the Cycle: Gem of the Ocean (1904), Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1911), Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1927), The Piano Lesson (1936), Seven Guitars (1948), Fences (1957), Two Trains Running (1969), Jitney (1977), King Hedley II (1985), and Radio Golf (1997).