When Did You Last Read a Play?

The other day my friend Ron sent me an email suggesting I read The Man Who Came to Dinner written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. He’d just finished it and found it delightfully funny. The title rang a bell, and on further investigation I discovered that it is a three act play first staged in 1939. Ron’s recommendation got me to wondering: when was the last time I’d read a play, and more importantly, why had it been so long.

I probably haven’t read a play since college when I was a more adventurous reader, jumping between all forms of writing in all genres. Another reason I haven’t picked up a play for awhile is the misconception that plays are a lot of work to read–all those stage directions and a story told in dialog only. It is kind of like why I hesitate to pick up a foreign film for a Friday night flick. Too much work to read those subtitles.

But the reality is that after the first couple minutes of a foreign film, I become so absorbed that I forget the subtitles are there. It is the same with plays. Once I get started, it’s like the form disappears and I am within the action. Another advantage of plays is that they are generally short, which means I can read them without a huge time commitment.

I decided that I must reinvite plays back into my reading repertoire. With that in mind, I headed down to East Side Books and was happy to discover that they have an extensive Play section that I have been neglecting for years. Among the volumes, I found some old favorites such as a collection of six plays by Lillian Hellman who wrote the highly acclaimed and controversial The Children’s Hour. Hellman was quite an important figure during her reign. I suggest after reading her plays, that you check out her memoirs in our Biography section, Pentimento and An Unfinished Woman.

I was also happy to find several volumes of plays by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. He has been called the “father of prose drama” and it is widely acknowledge that he is the best playwright of all time after Shakespeare. I remember being memorized by The Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, two of his more famous works. I was also moved greatly by A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry when I read it in high school, just as Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller was an intriguing read for a college seminar.

Speaking of Shakespeare, East Side Books has no shortage of works by the master. In fact we have two whole shelves devoted to his work. Although best known for Romeo and Juliet, I would have to recommend the chilling MacBeth as a must-Shakespeare-read. It is said that MacBeth carries a curse that is invoked if cast members in the play speak the title of the play within the theater. To do so brings down a hail of misfortune upon the production. This legend is so widely believed that many MacBeth cast members don’t tempt fate and refer to the darkest of Shakespeare’s work as only “the Scottish play” or “Lady M.”

As much as I like to revisit old favorites, I was pleased to find a number of plays and playwright that I’ve never read before. Some names were familiar and moved quickly up on my must-read list such as Irish playwright Bernard Shaw who penned Major Barbara Man and Superman, and Pygmalion upon which the movie My Fair Lady is based. American Eugene O’Neill ranks high on my list also as I frequently hear references to A Long Day’s Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh. If I wanted to go way back, we have half a shelf of work by Sophocles as well as Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe, an excellent playwright in his own right, and John Milton of Paradise Lost fame. Some of the more contemporary names that tempted me were Harold Pinter, Noel Coward, and Neil Simon.

After perusing the Play section of East Side Books, I decided that there were just too many excellent plays beckoning that I couldn’t neglect them any longer. I have vowed to read at least one play a month in an effort to include this wonderful genre into my reading rotation. I’m going to start with The Man Who Came to Dinner.

If the last time you read a play was too many years in the past to count, make a stop at East Side Books today and pick up a play.  Our Play section is located next to Biographies across from General Fiction.  If you need assistance finding one of the titles mentioned above, please ask one of the East Side staff for help.

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