Most people can recall reading Shakespearean plays in high school, but few have read a contemporary play script. Are you a fan of Hamilton, Wicked, Rent, or Hairspray? Do you know all the words to High School Musical? Is theater beyond the realm of anything you have ever considered exploring? Whether or not you have had the pleasure of watching a live theatrical performance or have read a play written by a living writer, I highly recommend you check these 6 excellent contemporary plays.
- The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe
DeLappe’s 2016 play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The Wolves is the story of an all-girls high school soccer team. As the narrative unfolds, themes such as the formation of identity and the pursuit of goals are revealed. Nine girls – who are referred to only as their jersey numbers – discuss sex, genocide, and drama in an overlapping narrative that exposes the internal and external struggles of each teammate.
- Alabaster by Audry Cefaly
Alabaster is Cefaly’s masterpiece about a woman named June. After a tornado rips through June’s life and kills her entire family, she and her two goats – Wezzy and Bib, who are played by humans – live in isolation within the ruins of what was. A photographer named Alice arrives on the scene to photograph June’s scars, and reveals her own painful scars in the process.
- Hang by Debbie Tucker Green
Three characters – who are known only as 1, 2, and 3 – have a difficult, dark, poetic and occasionally humorous conversation about an impossible decision. It is clear that 3 has been hurt by someone, and the dire decision she is forced to make is not revealed until the play’s conclusion. This play deals with themes like crime and punishment, revenge, and justice.
- Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl
A woman, after silencing the phone of a man in a cafe who turns out to be dead, begins answering calls and dealing with a stranger’s affairs. This play is a commentary on the digital age and the way cell phones bring us together and isolate us. Cell phones contain our entire lives – our connections and our secrets. Ruhl explores potential answers to this question: what happens to this technological extension of us after we die?
- Angels in America by Tony Kushner
In this two-part Pulitzer Prize winning play, multiple storylines intersect during the 1980’s AIDS epidemic in New York City. The cast includes Joe Pitt – a Mormon Republican clerk; Joe’s wife Harper (who is addicted to Valium); a word processor named Louis; Louis’ boyfriend who is dying of AIDS; a lawyer named Roy Cohn who faces disbarment and his own impending death from AIDS, and a nurse (who used to be a drag queen). The cast includes several other characters, including supernatural ones like ghosts and angels. This play is about escape, tragedy, prophecies and change.
- Sweat by Lynn Notage
This Pulitzer Prize winning play takes place in a fictional Pennsylvania bar where 3 factory workers, a parole officer, and two-ex convicts meet for a drink. Nottage’s work was inspired by a 2011 census which named Reading, Pennsylvania as one of the poorest cities in America. The dialogue in this play feels authentic in its depiction of fed-up working class people who can’t seem to catch a break.
Reading, and especially witnessing a play is a wonderful experience. Unlike literature, theater is a medium that requires the participation of an audience. It is constrained by factors like money, time, and space. If you have not had the chance to witness this type of art form for yourself, I promise that it is an experience you do not want to miss.
Author: Jacqui Donaldson also writes poetry and creative nonfiction. Her work has been published in The Vehicle, Loud Coffee Press, Across the Margin and others. Connect with Jacqui on Instagram and Twitter @Jacquiverse.