As of 3/1/13, when I was writing my senior thesis portfolio of plays and screenplays, this was the list I compiled of the top 10 plays which have influenced me (numbered but in no particular order):
1) The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh
One of the first plays I studied at $criptwriting camp. The story sucked me in and made me realize how much could physically happen on the stage, but also how much the genre could still play with the larger nature of narrative.
2) Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl
Another play I devoured at $criptwriting camp, when I was first encountering theater as a medium I could write and compose for myself. Now when I return to it, I am so impressed by the lyrical language that still weaves together strong characters. When I think that I cannot write anything but “realistic” dialogue, I think back here and hope that some of her style will rub off on me.
3) Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward
Major playwright crush of this year of my senior thesis. At first, it seemed odd for me to fall for the farcical, because in picking plays with the Rice Players I fought so hard against this form, but the wit sucked me in. I think the key is that even though it’s a farce, it’s not a stupid farce. Though all the loose ends are tied up at the end, it’s not pretty in any sense but the way the language plays out and every solution is clearly woven into the threads of the first acts.
4) 4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane
This play threw me for a loop until I helped perform pieces of it in my Modern Drama capstone at the end of my junior year at Rice. I knew I had to work on it in a bigger sense, which led me to use it for the final project. Not only did it challenge me as an actor and force me to think about plays from that side of the process, but as a writer it showed me just how little needs to be on the page to create something worth staging, worth performing, worth presenting in the theater.
5) The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
The first play I truly worked on as a theater geek; it was what hooked me into the Rice Players during my first semester at Rice and set me on the path to become a playwright, producer, dramaturg, et cetera. But besides the sentimental factor, it is actually an earlier, smart farce like my favorite Coward plays. It is so smart, but in the sense that all the societal pressures it plays on are real. I like to quote the lyrics from a Jason Mraz song when I think of this play: “The comedy is that it’s serious.”
6) The Zoo Story by Edward Albee
My favorite example of a one-act and how much a one-act can do with two people on a bench just “talking.” The speeches that Peter gives are so in depth that I feel each time I read and see this production that I’m still missing something. The twist with the stabbing action at the end was not expected at all, and yet it’s still the perfect fate for those characters and I loved that. It’s so haunting that I cannot help but think of this concise, yet ranging script when I think of where my writing could go, if I can keep it to the point . . .
7) Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
The first Shakespeare play I tackled on my own. I remember feeling so proud when I realized that the famous lines in Malvolio’s letter about greatness were all jokes and that anyone that had spoken them to me before had been foolishly misquoting. But when I studied this play in Dr. Huston’s Shakespeare and Film course, I learned to love it even more for the dark undertones in it. I didn’t know that music from a fool like Feste could be so haunting instead of entrancing in love. Although the lovers end up together in the end, it still doesn’t seem all right, even though the play naturally comes to an end. Plus, its entrances and exits are something to study for my own writing craft.
8) The Lesson by Eugene Ionesco
One really absurd play that I have actually enjoyed watching, even when it was a sub-par high school performance. More importantly, when I began to look at the many mechanisms of power and language within The Lesson, I realized how much I agree with Ionesco’s view of the theater. It’s a place to play with these many power dynamics, to mix them and show off their many complex facets. But it is not a place to solve these twisted problems.
9) Bus Stop by William Inge
After watching Splendor in the Grass with my mom, I had to find the other plays written by William Inge. I enjoyed reading the entire volume of his main four plays, especially his introduction. In it, he talked about still feeling dissatisfied after seeing some of his work produced, a feeling I recognized as I was reading this the summer after the production of my first full-length play, somewhere never travelled. But of all the plays in the volume, the cowboy language in this one stood out to me. I loved how each character played off the stereotypes of the Midwest, and yet it didn’t bother me to be faced with the overpowering cowboy archetype. Re-reading it, I still love the way the many love plots weave in and out and still all happen in one small diner over the course of a couple hours.
10) The Mystery Plays by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
This is the only “problem” script on this list. But I consider it just as formative in teaching me about what plays should and should not do to create theatre. I worked on this script as a dramaturg and although I loved the first act, I hated the second act. It took the narration from the first act and based all of its action off the descriptions and narrated flashbacks of its main character and to me that was lazy and not worth staging. Oddly enough, in the Rice Players production, the second act did come off better because we had stronger actors. Still, it made me think about what works in the theater and what should be saved for other formats and I consider that an invaluable lesson to experience and learn.