Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who Are America's Greatest Playwrights?

Posted by Bruce Miller
When you survey the current and not-so-current lists of “America’s Greatest Playwrights,” as I have always been wont to do, there are 25 names that consistently bubble up to the top of the kettle. In alpha order, they are:

Edward Albee
Horton Foote
John Guare
Lorraine Hansberry
Lillian Hellman
Henry David Hwang
William Inge
George S. Kaufman
Tony Kushner
David Mamet
Donald Margulies
Arthur Miller
Lynn Nottage
Clifford Odets
Eugene O’Neill
Suzan-Lori Parks
Jose Rivera
Sam Shepard
Robert Sherwood
Neil Simon
Paula Vogel
Thornton Wilder
Tennessee Williams
August Wilson
Lanford Wilson

The dozen runners up include Jon Robin Baitz, Lee Blessing, A. R. Gurney, Moss Hart, Sidney Kingsley, Tracy Letts, Terrence McNally, Elmer Rice, Sarah Ruhl, William Saroyan, John Patrick Shanley and Wendy Wasserstein.

All such lists, of course, are open to revision and meant to inspire differences of opinion. This list is deliberately not mine. It's a compilation of what I've found on the web and in other places, representing a broader base of opinions. If you feel so inclined, I'd love to hear from you regarding who you think should be added or deleted.

The five-second version of the Mission of Barksdale Theatre is “to produce in Central Virginia national caliber productions of the great comedies, dramas and musicals—past, present and future." In keeping with that Mission, surely Barksdale should be introducing or re-visiting the works of America’s greatest playwrights on a regular basis.

In subsequent posts, I'll be looking at how we have been doing in keeping this canon of great American work alive for Central Virginia audiences.

Till then, let me remind you that we will be revisiting the work of William Inge in just a few weeks, when Bus Stop opens at Hanover Tavern under the direction of Amy Berlin. Inge has been variously called the “most popular playwright of the 50s,” “the Poet Laureate of the American Midwest,” and “the Chekhov of the Common Man.” By any objective reckoning, he is indisputably in America’s top 20 playwrights of all time.

Richmond hasn’t seen an Inge work on stage in years. Hope you’ll join us in December as we revisit one of the greatest (and most enjoyable) plays of an American master.

--Bruce Miller


Thespis' Little Helper said...

William Inge (although still making it to the top of most lists) has seemed to have had a falling off in recent years, which is really unfortunate. He writes with such pain and hope. And communicates so beautifully.

In five years Sarah Ruhl will hardly be a runner-up.

Wendy Wasserstein made invaluable contributions to the theatre.

Seems odd that artists with one or two really notable plays join the ranks of Albee, Williams, Shepard, and Vogel.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Oh...also...David Lindsay-Abaire should definitely be on this list, not only for his Pulitzer Prize winning RABBIT HOLE, but also for his fantastic Off-Broadway, quirky works such as FUDDY MEERS, KIMBERLY AKIMBO and A DEVIL INSIDE, not to mention the books of such musicals as HIGH FIDELITY and SHREK THE MUSICAL.

Thespis' Little Helper said...