Colleen has a Master’s degree in English Literature and is an author of stories and articles focusing on the dynamics of human relationships
The wish to “live vicariously” the lives of others seems to meet a profound human need, sometimes reflecting aspects of ourselves we would prefer to ignore.
There is no question as to whether some plays, especially those centred on pantomime and/or visual imagery, can be fully appreciated if read by ourselves. Still, there are an abundance of plays which, if savoured in solitude, can absorb and encompass us in a way a stage presentation cannot.
If a phrase or line captivates us, we can take as much time as is needed to explore its significance. Often, these are worth writing down, to be referred back to later.
Natural disasters, geographic difficulties, and even pandemics can be ameliorated by the ability to imagine what we might otherwise see, given room for our own perspective.
While a stage play can seem incandescent, akin to a chandelier ignited in a darkened room, it is worth remembering those words were once on a page, almost certainly honed through various drafts before being freed to enthral an audience.
By way of example, Tennessee Williams planned to call his magnificent “A Streetcar Named Desire “Poker Night” Can we imagine advertising “Poker Night” starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando?
♦ I list below my play reading suggestions
Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon
I never thought I would be brought to tears by a play by Neil Simon. While several of his plays seem likely to become comic classics, his genre has been voicing social commentary within a satirical sphere.
Then, reading "Lost in Yonkers" changed my perception. Two boys, due to their father’s medical bills for their mother's terminal illness, have no other option but to stay with their cantankerous grandmother. Each family member is subjected to her needling cruelties. The boys are forced to observe familial dynamics in a way they could not have imagined in their previous home, with two affectionate parents.
Queens of France by Thornton Wilder
Though best-known for his masterpiece, "Our Town”, I believe Wilder’s lesser known "Queens of France" to be one of his finest. Here, the question becomes whether it is kindness or conning to offer women of various ages, delusions which transform the drabness of their dreary, daily lives into beliefs in a joyous future.
Orange Souffle by Saul Bellow
A prostitute does all she can to persuade a wealthy, elderly client to take her into his mansion as his ongoing hostess, companion and paramour. The question becomes whether or not he is willing to do so, or persists on retaining the amicable distance they have maintained for a number of years.
Brief Encounter by Noel Coward
Despite the ability which brought him fame, respect and affluence, Noel Coward voiced his fear of having no more to offer than “a talent to amuse”. Among other plays, “Brief Encounter” shows his ability to write with a poignant intensity.
A man and woman meet on a train, and then, accidentally some time later meet again. Both their marriages have grown lacklustre, rendering these acquaintances ongoing meetings more than coincidental. Eventually, a passion develops. How far are they willing to take it?
Given prior commitments and settled lives becomes the central choice of this play. Inferentially, many of us feel compelled to face this decision, aware there can be no absolute answer.
After the Fall by Arthur Miller
This semi-autobiographical play centres on renowned playwright Arthur Miller’s tender but often searing marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe. Despite her overwhelming allure, Ms. Monroe was a profoundly troubled young woman.
Some viewers and readers have viewed “After the Fall” as Miller’s self-justification in terminating their marriage.
Others, myself among them, perceive this as Miller’s working through his anguish at meeting Ms. Monroe when some vital part of her sense of herself had been broken, harnessing her into ever-increasing chemical dependence.
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Salesman Willy Loman is tragic in his ordinariness. As with many workers whose livelihoods depend on commissions and likeability, the ageing Loman has no choice but to realise he has become obsolete, expendable, and to some extent burdensome. At the same time, Loman must accept those values he has transferred to his sons, as largely detrimental.
No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
Perhaps Sartre’s best-known quote is “hell is other people.”
Hence, in this play, he creates a hell consisting of three people inside a closed room, predestined to torture each other verbally throughout eternity. None of them can die or be killed, in that each of them is already dead.
While not upbeat reading, this play is likely to gain and retain a reader’s absorption. If we cannot like or admire any of these three souls, they are bound to stay with us, if only in terms of wondering who we would find most horrific to be confined with forever.
Come Back, little Sheba by William Inge
This gentle drama is, I believe, one of Inge’s most human and poignant plays. Lola Delaney, in hopes of renewing her husband’s affection, incessantly reminds him of how far he has come via Alcoholics Anonymous. She fails to understand her harping upon his previous fiascoes has become a form of torment.
Seeking to replace what seems to be his withdrawal of love, Lola allows her hopes to find her lost puppy, Sheba, to become her primary focus. In time, a catharsis in the Delaney's marriage opens the potential to return to their genuine love with enhanced understanding.
Picnic by William Inge
While the newcomer’s presence is pivotal to the major plot, there is also a heart-wrenching subplot. This addresses the loss of dignity by a middle-aged teacher, brought about by her fear of remaining unmarried. Implicitly, her terror voices the anguish of many women her age during that era, beneath their thin camouflage of nonchalance.
The Visit by Friedrich Durrenmatt
This play operates on two levels. Politically, Durrenmatt is voicing rage at his native Switzerland, due to its having stayed neutral during WWII.
Still, “The Visit” can be read as vengeance for a long past betrayal.
When Claire Zachanassian, a previous inhabitant of a small town returns as an affluent guest, the townspeople become hell-bent upon growing wealthy via her largess.
Aware her wealth can buy her almost whatever she wishes, Claire offers a large sum of money to her former townspeople, upon one condition: They must murder Anton Schill, a local store owner in revenge for his having denied paternity of a child conceived by them both, years before.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
This masterpiece, first offending the censors, overcame their views, especially when the film featured Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, both of whom gave superb performances.
Here, a younger couple, invited for a late drink, become both sounding boards and mirrors of sordid secrets.
Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
Though writing in the late 19th century, Ibsen was at the forefront of those male playwrights willing to discuss the emotions of women in their often gritty realities.
In one of Ibsen’s best-known plays, Hedda Gabler, first produced in 1891, Hedda, hoping to gratify her wishes, eventually finds every aspect of life she has touched to have become warped and malevolent.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Based on the Novel by Ken Kesey, and adapted into a stage play by Dale Wasserman.
This play, in basic terms, represents an individual clashing with bureaucracy in its most contemptible form. This places the vibrant rebel, McMurphy, in an almost instantaneous duel with the power thirsty Nurse Rached.
Beginning with minor nurse/patient conflict, the McMurphy/Rached fencing escalates into an irreversible bloodbath.
Mrs. Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw
Those who have been intimidated by their impressions of Shaw as verbose and pompous are likely to find the raw honesty of this play refreshing. Written in 1893, it was condemned by many as a defence of prostitution. According to Shaw’s account, he meant it as a commentary on the plight of impoverished women, compelled to sell their bodies in order to avoid starvation.
The central mother-daughter relationship mirrors the cruelty of youthful idealism against savage reality.
What Every Woman Knows by James M Barrie
Best-known for his children’s classic “Peter Pan”, feminists are likely to cringe at the wifely role portrayed by Maggie (Wylie) Shand, the heroine of this play. Still, performed prior to the suffragette movement, it is not surprising for it to have been perceived as radical for its time.
Maggie Shand is willing to appear devoid of charm, attractiveness, lacking genuine wit or ability. Yet, Subsequent interactions make clear she knows far more than she finds it right to acknowledge.
In time, circumstances force the question as to whether she will continue to co-exist within the status quo, in order to maintain her marriage.
The Teahouse of the August Moon by John Patrick adapted from the novel by Vern Sneider
This play, first staged in 1953, resonates throughout our current socio-political struggles.
An American colonel visits Okinawa. Believing himself to have come as a friend, giving “the gift of democracy”, he fails to understand this gift may not be entirely welcomed. Flummoxed by the ability of the Chinese to circumvent his orders with graceful zeal, the colonel deputes this work to his subordinates.
These perceived inferiors, blessed with a willingness to explore the Chinese perspective, convert initial distrust into friendship, and even a kind of love.
The Belle of Amherst by William Luce
This one-woman play is based on the reclusive life of American poet, Emily Dickinson, what is known about her needs to be surmised from her poems, letters and other writings.
Butterflies are Free by Leonard Gershe
Though written in 1969, this play is believed by a large number of sight impaired people to be the most authentic depiction of a young sight impaired man to achieve autonomy.
Having moved into his own apartment, he is forced to deal with a suffocating mother who resists understanding of his right and desire to live on his own.
In time, he becomes involved with a young female neighbour. Turning up unexpectedly, his mother is determined to keep her role as her son’s insulation against the adversities of life. Will she succeed in so-doing?
The Lion in Winter by James Goldman
Though historical accuracy has been somewhat altered, the essence of royal life in 1183 is crystallised at its finest and foulest.
Henry II of England, and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, while often ablaze with hate for each other, share a deep tenderness which time and infidelity can never destroy. The dialog here, between the various characters, is magnificent while realistic.
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel
This jewel of a play questions whether two teenage daughters of a deeply despairing mother can detach themselves from her, in order to avoid viewing life as an ongoing struggle against being ostracised.
© 2020 Colleen Swan
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on October 11, 2020:
Nice to hear from you again. I too miss going to the theatre and wish there was more of it where I live. One of my most beloved songs is Noel Coward's "If Love Were All." I don't get the feeling his private life was all that happy, but his motto was "Rise Above It"
Ann Carr from SW England on October 11, 2020:
There are a few here I'm not familiar with but you make a good case for reading plays. It leaves us to our own interpretation rather than watching the drama. Howevwe, I love going to the theatre which, sadly, I haven't done for ages now. I often went with my parents and your inclusion of Noel Coward reminded me of how much we enjoyed his acid wit and keen character observation.
Good to read your work again.
I hope all's well with you and yours.
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on May 29, 2020:
Hi Gilbert, Thank you for checking in. I was surprised about Kirk Douglas too. The film version will always be my favourite of the various renditions.Colleen
Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on May 28, 2020:
Colleen, you put together a well designed piece with excellent works of popular authors of history and nice photos. I was surprised to see Kirk Douglas star in a Broadway production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." It's good to see your still writing hubs.