-- Louis Malle
Seeing plays in production helps, but less than you'd think until you're attuned to the technique of this craft. If the production is anything short of absolutely terrible -- and if you're like most folks -- at first you'll get so swept away by the story and characters that you'll have only a hazy memory of the important structural techniques the playwright used. So reading is a better approach to start with.
If you're doing this on your own, forget everything you ever learned about speed-reading: read these plays out loud to yourself or do it silently in your head, but saying every word. This way, the technical structure will be clearer to you. And so will the playwright's Voice.
A political thriller and mystery with a very complex Theme and a great Open Ending to reinforce that theme. It's a brilliant play by someone who lived the issues he's writing about in the political terror of Chile's recent past.
And it's a great example of using a very strong Suspense Plot: A victim of political arrest and torture discovers many years later that her tormentor is an unknowing guest in her house -- or at least she thinks it's him.
ORDER The Passenger A very literate -- even intellectual -- political thriller that gives you a good sense of how one of the world's great director-screenwriter teams used images rather than only words to tell a story.
A classy, hysterical, and complex group of related One-Acts combined to make a full-length play.
A comedy relying on violence -- or the threat of it -- for its humor, and that then becomes very serious as the scenes progress. And a great opening scene with a comic Suspense Plot to die for as a husband sheepishly admits to his wife that he's hired a hit man who's on the way to their house to do what he was hired for.
An excellent example of the use of Metaphoric Titles for each act as well as for the play itself. And a good example of the daring use of a second and unrelated Suspense Plot to hold the audience late in the play.
For several years after its very successful New York run [launched by a non-profit theatre, of course], the play made Ntozake Shange the second most produced playwright on the regional theatre circuit in the USA. The guy who kept her out of first place: William Shakespeare.
Deep down in its soul, the play rests on conventional dual-plot structure, but it still shows you what can be done by pushing the rest of that envelope of "rules" as far to the edge as you can.
A classic of the 20th Century. An example of the impact that can result when almost no Exposition is used. And it has one of the great confrontation scenes of the 20th Century [between Lenny and Ruth] with Subtext thick enough to walk on.
An American version of violent farce. Hysterical and moving and disturbing all at the same time as baby grows up under the influence of parents who argue over whether it's OK to call him a baked potato or a sweetie pie.
He's one of the great weird comics of the American theatre.
A complex tracing of 24 years in the life of the main character from high school to motherhood in a series of short Formal Scenes. And a complex Theme dealing with the not-at-all-simple trade-offs professional career women face in the US.
A good example of the use of a Narrator as story-teller and active character in the action of the play. And a compelling tale of the impact of a very foreign culture on two Americans looking for something more.
One of his most complex but still accessible plays, notable for combining two stories and their characters separated by a century, but shown to us on the same stage. And a delightful game of what's history and how it's made. And -- if that's not enough -- it's from the co-screenwriter of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.
[Here in case you missed it on the First 5 Plays list.]
An excellent example of the effectiveness of one of the most minimal Suspense Plots in the contemporary theatre. A comic and serious examination of what that glorious free-floating decade of the 60's was really like -- and it's aftermath.
A fine example of the use of a Narrator to explain a complex and controversial Theme to the audience. Complex because it's about old world honor, the refusal to compromise beliefs, and a man who thinks he's simply protecting his niece but by loving her too well, brings about his own destruction.
This, and DEATH OF A SALESMAN are the best from one of America's great playwrights.