Why not try something different this summer? Read a play. Read a play! Sounds crazy — but for me reading a play is a literary pleasure as intense as any I know. Here are a few of the ones I’ve enjoyed over the years — with a few warnings.
Selecting favorites is always idiosyncratic — and perhaps no more so than in choosing plays that others might like. One person’s humor is another’s inanity. A work that I rate as remarkably powerful may be nothing but treacle and melodrama to somebody else. Reading plays with large casts can be confusing, but if you’re able to sort everybody out these works can be very satisfying. Some cutting-edge experimental work can be hard to ‘get’ from the page; these, I think, are best tackled in production.
Playhouses are discovering that many playgoers not only want to see their plays but read them as well. So they’re stocking the scripts for sale at the box office. Smith and Kraus, a publisher of plays and theatre books, prints special editions for individual shows under its Production in Print series. Its first venture was in D.C. at at the Washington Shakespeare Company where the audience found copies of “The Liar” on sale in the lobby. Smith and Kraus sold 1,200 copies during the run of David Ives’s version of the 17th century Pierre Corneille play. “We’re trying to turn every little theatre lobby into a bookstore,” said publisher Marisa Smith, who is also a playwright.
So here’s my brief, highly selective list of old and new plays for fine summer reading.
Art , by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton (Dramatists Play Service, $7.50).
August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts (Theatre Communications Group, $14.95).
A Behanding in Spokane, by Martin McDonagh (Dramatists Play Service, $7.50).
The Dark at the Top of the Stairs , by William Inge (Dramatists Play Service, $7.50).
Dial “M” for Murder , by Frederick Knott (Dramatists Play Service, $7.50).
Doubt, A Parable, by John Patrick Shanley (Dramatists Play Service, $7.50).
A Flea in Her Ear , by Georges Feydeau (Theatre Communications Group, $10.95)
God of Carnage , by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton (Dramatists Play Service, $7.50).
Golda’s Balcony , by William Gibson (Samuel French, $12.95).
A Number, by Caryl Churchill (Theatre Communications Group, $11.95).
The Potting Shed , by Graham Greene (Samuel French, $15)
Proof , by David Auburn (Dramatists Play Service, $7.50).
Rabbit Hole, by David Lindsay-Abaire (Dramatists Play Service, $7.50).
Rosmersholm , by Henrik Ibsen (Theatre Communications Group, $18.95)
Ruined, by Lynn Nottage (Theatre Communications Group, $13.95)
Sexual Perversity in Chicago , by David Mamet (Samuel French, $7.50)
The Subject Was Roses , by Frank D. Gilroy (Samuel French, $7.50 )
That Championship Season , by Jason Miller (Dramatists Play Service, $7.50)
A Thousand Clowns, by Herb Gardner (Samuel French, $7.50)
The Time of Your Life , by William Saroyan (Samuel French, $7.50)
A Touch of the Poet , by Eugene O’Neill (Dramatists Play Service, $7.50).
Steven Levingston is the nonfiction editor of The Washington Post. He is author of “Little Demon in the City of Light: A True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Époque Paris” (Doubleday, 2014) and “The Kennedy Baby: The Loss that Transformed JFK” (Washington Post eBook, 2013).