Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Bus Stop" is Barksdale's Next Classic

Posted by Bruce Miller
Let’s revisit the tantalizing subject of the Greatest American Playwrights as a lead-in to my next post on William Inge, the author of Barksdale’s upcoming Hanover Tavern production of Bus Stop. Anyone’s personal list of great playwrights will be highly subjective, of course. So I’ve compiled a consensus list drawn from about 20 or so other lists I’ve found hither, thither and yon.

There seems to be rough agreement about which names to include in the top five American dramatists. In alpha order, they are Edward Albee, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and August Wilson. The middle three are carved in stone. The two more contemporary bookends are the only playwrights who appear on virtually everyone’s list of the top ten.

In trying to identify the next five, I find myself on much shakier ground. Relying on the tried-and-true, as most such lists tend to do, you wind up with five giants of the 20th century, whose works continue to be revived on and off Broadway, in major regional theatres, and internationally. Each was a household name in his or her time. Each had an extended career, and their great plays still appear in text books and anthologies around the world as representative American dramas.

What follows is my best stab at the consensus B Team. I make note below of their most acclaimed work for the stage (plus a handful of notable screenplays*). Again, they are in alpha order.

Lillian Hellman
The Children’s Hour [1934], The Little Foxes [1939], Watch on the Rhine [1941], Another Part of the Forest [1946], The Autumn Garden [1951], The Lark—adaptation of the French play by Jean Anouilh [1955], Candide—original libretto of the Bernstein operetta [1957], Toys in the Attic [1960]

William Inge
Come Back, Little Sheba [1950], Picnic [1953], Glory in the Flower [1953], Bus Stop [1955], Dark at the Top of the Stairs [1957]) A Loss of Roses [1959], Splendor in the Grass* [1961], Natural Affection [1962], The Last Pad [1972]

George S. Kaufman (pictured on the 1st Time cover) and his collaborators
Merton of the Movies—with Marc Connelly [1922], Beggar on Horseback—with Marc Connelly [1925], The Butter and Egg Man [1925], The Cocoanuts—libretto with Morrie Ryskind of the Irving Berlin musical [1925], The Royal Family—with Edna Ferber [1927], Animal Crackers—libretto with Morrie Ryskind [1928], June Moon—with Ring Lardner [1929], Once in a Lifetime—with Moss Hart [1930], Of Thee I Sing—libretto with Morrie Ryskind of the Gershwin musical [1931], Dinner at Eight—with Edna Ferber [1932], Merrily We Roll Along—with Moss Hart [1934], You Can’t Take It with You—with Moss Hart [1936], The Man Who Came to Dinner—with Moss Hart [1939], George Washington Slept Here—with Moss Hart [1940]

Clifford Odets (pictured on the 2nd Time cover)
Waiting for Lefty [1935], Awake and Sing! [1935], Paradise Lost [1935], Golden Boy [1937], Rocket to the Moon [1938], Clash by Night [1941], Humoresque* [1946], The Big Knife [1949], The Country Girl [1950], The Sweet Smell of Success* [1957], Wild in the Country* [1961]

Thornton Wilder (pictured on the 3rd Time cover)
The Long Christmas Dinner [1931], The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden [1931], Pullman Car Hiawatha [1931], A Doll’s House—translation and adaptation of the Ibsen masterwork [1935], Our Town [1938], The Merchant of Yonkers [1938], The Beaux’ Stratagem—adaptation of the Farquhar masterwork [1939], The Skin of Our Teeth [1942], Shadow of a Doubt* [1943], Our Century [1947], The Matchmaker [1954], Alcestiad [1955]

I’m proud to note that, in keeping with our mission to produce the great plays—past, present and future, Barksdale has staged 30 productions of major works by eight of the top ten American dramatists. The only two we’ve yet to explore are August Wilson and Clifford Odets. I’ve made a note.

Barksdale productions of the top ten playwrights include (in chronological order):
1956 Our Town – Wilder
1958 The Matchmaker – Wilder
1958 Bus Stop – Inge
1959 The Crucible (revived in ’60) – Miller
1960 Picnic – Inge
1960 A Streetcar Named Desire – Williams
1961 The Rose Tatoo – Williams
1962 The Solid Gold Cadillac – Kaufman and Teichman
1965 Come Back, Little Sheba – Inge
1966 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (revived in ’67) – Albee
1967 The Night of the Iguana – Williams
1972 George Washington Slept Here – Kaufman and Hart
1974 Long Day’s Journey Into Night – O’Neill
1974 You Can’t Take It with You (revived in ’76) – Kaufman and Hart
1975 Ah! Wilderness – O’Neill
1977 The Royal Family – Kaufman and Ferber
1979 The Man Who Came to Dinner – Kaufman and Hart
1983 George Washington Slept Here – Kaufman and Hart
1993 Death of a Salesman – Miller
1994 Our Town – Wilder
1995 The Glass Menagerie – Williams
1999 Three Tall Women – Albee
2001 The Little Foxes – Hellman
2002 The Crucible – Miller
2004 The Man Who Came to Dinner – Kaufman and Hart
2006 The Lark – Hellman
2009 Bus Stop – Inge

Hope to see you at each of our upcoming shows: Bus Stop at Hanover Tavern, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Willow Lawn, A Christmas Carol at the historic Empire, and Black Nativity (co-produced with African American Repertory Theatre) at the Gottwald Playhouse.

--Bruce Miller


Thespis' Little Helper said...

I am really longing to see Suzan-Lori Parks and Sarah Ruhl join these five in a solid top ten list in the next few years. Ms. Parks has been appearing in text books for a few years now (mostly for her Topdog/Underdog) and I'm hopeful that Ms. Ruhl will soon be appearing in the same.

Barksdale has produced (or had a hand in producing) Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog at Theatre Gym and a week of 365 Days/365 Plays (in association with K Dance on the Lobby Stage at Barksdale Theatre Willow Lawn), Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House and a reading of Dead Man's Cellphone (with Firehouse Theatre Project, also on the Lobby Stage), which happens to be my personal favorite of her works.

The landscape of American theatre is changing and thanks to women like Wendy Wasserstein, Lorraine Hansberry, Lillian Helman, Marsha Norman the incredible talents of women playwrights such as Suzan-Lori Parks and Sarah Ruhl are given a much better "listen", which is truly thrilling.

Natalie said...

George Kaufman was involved in one of the great Old Hollywood scandals when he had a torrid affair with the married Mary Astor and her sensational diary (chronicling Mr. Kaufman's apparently considerable talents outside of writing) was brought out at trial and printed in newspapers across the country. If I recall correctly, the phrase "Oh desert night!" is from her diary, among other bons mots.