1956, and all that - Act 2's 50-ish plays since 1956, pt2

Following on from the last blog, here's another 25 plays since 1956.

Accidental Death Of Anarchist (1970) by Dario Fo
This sharp and hilarious satire on police corruption by Italian playwright Dario Fo is a must read and contains some brilliant devices, not least its ending. Concerning the case of an anarchist railway worker who falls to his death from a police headquaters window, Fo cleverly lampoons the corrupt Italy in which he lived. Fo, drawing on the Zanni figure of the commedia dell’arte, created one of his most successful roles for this play, that of a maniac who infiltrates the Milan police headquarters and carries out a number of impersonations in order to force the police to admit the illogic of the worker’s alleged leap from a window and to confess their culpability.

Other plays to check out here: Can't Pay? Won't Pay!, Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas - both Fo.

Abigail's Party (1977) by Mike Leigh 
Perhaps more famous now for the subsequent film, Abigail's Party is a suburban comedy of manners, and a satire on the aspirations and tastes of the new middle class that emerged in Britain in the 1970s. Beverly Moss invites her new neighbours, Angela and Tony, who moved into the road just two weeks ago, over for drinks. She has also invited her neighbour Susan (Sue), divorced for three years, whose fifteen-year-old daughter Abigail is holding a party at home. Beverly's husband Laurence comes home late from work, just before the guests arrive. The gathering starts off in a stiff, insensitive, British middle class way as the virtual strangers tentatively gather, until Beverly and Laurence start sniping at each other. As Beverly serves more drinks and the alcohol takes effect, Beverly flirts more and more overtly with Tony, as Laurence sits impotently by. After a tirade about art, Laurence suffers a fatal heart attack. Within this simple framework, all of the obsessions, prejudices, fears and petty competitiveness of the protagonists are ruthlessly exposed.

Other plays to check out here: Ecstasy - Mike Leigh, The Memory of Water - Shelagh Stephenson, Absent Friends - Alan Ayckbourn.

Buried Child (1978)and True West (1980) by Sam Shepard
In Buried Child Pulitzer Prize winner Sam Shepard takes a macabre look at one American Midwestern family with a very dark secret. When Vince brings his girlfriend, Shelly, home to meet his family, she is at first charmed by the "normal" looking farm house which she compares to a "Norman Rockwell cover or something"--that's before she actually meets his crazy family--his ranting, alcoholic grandparents (Dodge and Halie) and their two sons: Tilden and Bradley, who has lost one leg to a chain saw. Strangely, no one seems to remember Vince at first, and they treat him as an intruder. Eventually, however, they seem to accept him as a part of their violently dysfunctional family. Gradually, the family's dark secret begins to come clear. Years ago Dodge, the grandfather, buried an unwanted newborn (possibly the product of an incestual relationship between Tilden and his mother) in some undisclosed location in the backyard. From that point forward, the entire family lived under a cloud of guilt that is finally dispelled when Tilden unearths the unfortunate child's mummified remains and carries it upstairs to his mother. This act seems to purge the family of its curse. Corn now grows in the fields where nothing would grow for years. True West on the other hand concerns Austin ‘the achiever’, an earnest screenwriter on the verge of success. He's working on a script he has sold to a Hollywood producer while house-sitting for his mother in LA. When his brother Lee ‘the drifter’ and petty thief decides to stop by, he pitches his own idea for a movie and convinces the producer to ditch Austin’s love story for his own trashy Western tale. Now they must work together to secure the deal. But with mistrust and jealousy bubbling under the surface and the heat of a Californian night melting away their inhibitions, their own flaws threaten to get in the way. Both could be considered modern classics by one of America’s most renowned living playwrights and in his exposing the cracks in the American Dream Shepard is the true heir to Arthur Miller.

Other plays to check out here: Curse of the Starving Class - Sam Shepard, Dead Man's Cell Phone - Sarah Ruhl.

Cloud Nine (1979), Top Girls (1982) and Serious Money (1987) by Caryl Churchill 
Churchill's first play to receive wide notice was Cloud Nine, a farce about sexual politics, set partly in a British overseas colony during the Victorian era. It explores the colonialism and its affect on intimate personal relationships with cross-gender casting for comic and instructive effect. Top Girls deals with women's losing their humanity in order to attain power in a male-dominated environment. It features an all-female cast, and focuses on Marlene, who has relinquished a home and family to achieve success in the world of business. Half the action takes place at a celebratory dinner where Marlene mixes with historical, iconic and fictional women who have achieved great stature in a "man's world", but always at great cost. The other half of the play, set a year in the past, focuses on Marlene's family, where the true cost of her "successful" life becomes poignantly and frighteningly apparent. Serious Money is Churchill's comedy about excesses in the financial world written as a verse play, chiefly written in rhyming couplets. It takes a satirical look at the vagaries of the stock market and its Thatcherite denizens. The play was highly acclaimed, perhaps in part because it played immediately after the stock market crash of 1987.

Other plays to check out here: A Number, Far Away, Love and Information and my favourite Blue Kettle - all Churchill. Hapgood - Tom Stoppard.

Translations (1980) and Dancing at Lughnasa (1990) Brian Friel
Brian Friel is an Irish dramatist, and widely considered to be one of the greatest living English-language dramatists, hailed by the English-speaking world as an "Irish Chekhov. Dancing at Lughnasa is set in Ireland's County Donegal in August 1936 in the fictional town of Ballybeg. It is a Memory play told from the point of view of the adult Michael Evans, the narrator. He recounts the summer in his aunts' cottage when he was seven years old. It charts the lives of the five Mundy sisters and their love of their radio - a connection with the outside world - that the nickname Marconi. Translations again is set in Ballybeg, or Baile Beag in Irish, in 1833. The British Army arrives to translate Gaelic place names into the King’s English. Farm girl Máire finds herself torn between the affections of the local school teacher and the love of a British soldier, between her native tongue and a new language, between the comfort of the world she knows and the excitement of foreign possibilities. The resulting clash of cultures strikes at the heart of the community as they struggle to interpret a new language, and each other. What gets lost in translation?

Other plays to check out here: Philadelphia, Here I Come!, Faith Healer, The Freedom Of The City, Making History - all Friel, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme - Frank McGuinness, Sive - John B. Keane.

The Romans in Britain (1980) by Howard Brenton, Pravda (1985) by David Hare and Howard Brenton, Racing Demon (1990) by David Hare
The Romans in Britain  is Howard Brenton's sweeping, epic play which dramatises the violent clashes of culture and the humour of survival in times of invasion. Brenton clashes together Julius Caesar's raid on Britain, which ultimately fails; the birth of the myth of King Arthur and the story of a British army officer losing his mind in occupied Northern Ireland in the 1980s and uses this to comment on imperialism and the abuse of power. It was one of the most controversial plays of the '80s.

Brenton teamed up with David Hare to make Pravda. Pravda is a satirical play exploring the role of journalism in society focusing on Lambert Le Roux, a white South African media mogul - loosely based on  press baron Rupert Murdoch. Le Roux is obsessed, it seems, on dominating England's press as he has elsewhere in the world. As we see Le Roux accomplish his aims, we see also how the press is not the organ of truth we like to think it is. The dissemination of the truth is no longer its primary goal under the 'Lambert Le Rouxs' of our World. What is important now is what sells.

Hare meanwhile writes Racing Demon in 1990 as his investigation into the Church of England. As Hare sees it the Church is now a disparate body and finds itself attracting unwanted publicity, wracked by the dissension of its members on matters of doctrine and practice and at odds with the government. In this climate the Reverend Lionel Espy and his team of clergymen struggle to make sense of their mission in South London, as the arrival of a zealous young curate intensifies their personal and professional problems. All three plays have their own modern Angry Young Man style and typify the development of left wing theatre writing through the 1980s.

Other plays to check out here: The Vertical Hour and The Absence of War - both Hare, Epsom Downs and Never So Good - both Brenton, Great Britain - Richard Bean.

Noises Off (1981) by Michael Frayn 
Called the funniest farce ever written, Noises Off  presents a manic menagerie as a cast of itinerant actors rehearsing a flop called Nothing's On. Doors slamming, on and offstage intrigue, and an errant herring all figure in the plot of this hilarious and classically comic play. This is one you really should see rather than read as the plotting of the script is more of a score for movement and where we are placed as audience either in front of or behind the scenes.

Other plays to check out here: Copenhagen - Frayn, One Man, Two Guvnors - Richard Bean, Moon Over Buffalo - Ken Ludwig 

Master Harold... and the Boys (1982) by Athol Fugard 
Set in the 1950s in Apartheid South Africa, Master Harold... is a searing coming of age story, considered by many to be Fugard's masterpiece. A white teen who has grown up in the affectionate company of the two black waiters who work in his mother's tea room in Port Elizabeth learns that his viciously racist alcoholic father is on his way home from the hospital. An ensuing rage unwittingly triggers his inevitable passage into the culture of hatred fostered by apartheid.

Other plays to check out here: Sizwe Banzi Is Dead - Fugard, Topdog/Underdog - Suzan-Lori Parks

Masterpieces (1983) by Sarah Daniels 
Masterpieces is an  extraordinary, daring play is about the deleterious effects of pornography on personal relationships and on the whole social fabric. Rowena, a British social worker, is enraged over the ubiquitous presence of porn in her life and that of her friends. She sees it as ritualized violence against women and she commits a random murder of a man in revenge. Its power lies in the vehement statement it puts out against pornography and  excessive graphically violent films and it's an anger that still holds relevance today. Sadly, I couldn't find a single picture of Sarah Daniels online, so have used the cover of one of her plays anthologies. Would this be the case if she were a man?

Other plays to check out here:Ripen Our Darkness and The Devil's Gateway both Daniels, Pentecost - David Edgar.

Fences (1983) by August Wilson 
Fences follows Troy Maxson, a former star of the black only baseball leagues who now works as a garbage man in 1957 Pittsburgh. Excluded as a black man from the major leagues during his prime, Troy's bitterness takes its toll on his relationships with his wife and his son, who now wants his own chance to play ball. It's a brilliant look at America and race, and compliments A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry - which Wilson used as part of his inspiration for the play.

Other plays to check out here: The Piano Lesson and Joe Turner's Come and Gone - both Wilson, In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) - Sarah Ruhl

Glengarry Glen Ross (1984) by David Mamet
This Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play is Mamet at his very best writing about four desperate small-time, cutthroat real estate salesmen in Chicago who are prepared to do just about anything to unload undesirable real estate on prospective buyers. This is only made worse when the corporate office sends a trainer to "motivate" them who announces that, in one week, all except the top two salesmen will be fired. It's a bitter indictment of where America was by 1984 and in the 4 men's unscrupulous attempts to grind out a living by pushing plots of land on reluctant buyers in a never-ending scramble for their share of the American dream, it becomes a statement on the very thing they are trying so desperately to achieve.

Other plays to check out here: American Buffalo, Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Oleanna - all Mamet, How I Learned to Drive - Paula Vogel, Proof - David Auburn.

Road (1986) by Jim Cartwright 
Under the guidance of the rum-soaked wideboy Scullery, we are taken on an evening's tour of a scruffy, depressed road in a small Lancashire town  
during the government of Margaret Thatcher, a time of high unemployment in the north of England.. Moving from street corner to living room, from bedroom to kitchen, we meet the inhabitants of young, middle-aged, and old, glimpsing their socially and emotionally wretched lives, in this sharp, sad, funny, and angry play.

Other plays to check out here: Two, Bed, Rise and Fall of Little Voice - all Cartwright, Cooking with Elvis - Lee Hall

Our Country’s Good (1988) by Timberlake Wertenbaker 
In June 1789 in the Australian penal colony that was later to become the city of Sydney, a marine lieutenant decides to put on a play - The Beaux' Stratagem by George Farquhar - to celebrate the king's birthday. He casts the play with the English convicts who populate this distant Australian prison camp. Few of them can read, let alone act, and the play is being produced against a background of food shortages and barbaric punishments--brilliantly juxtaposed against the apparent civilizing influence of theatrical endeavour. The "hangman," himself a convict, has been recruited along with a woman, wrongfully accused of stealing. Even as the play is being rehearsed, he measures her for a noose. Despite powerful and disturbing scenes, Our Country's Good is a tribute to the transforming power of drama and its unique spiritual power.

Other plays to check out here: The Love of the Nightingale - Timberlake Wertenbaker 

Angels in America (1991) by Tony Kushner
Tony Kushner's Angels in America is that rare entity: a work for the stage that is profoundly moving yet very funny, highly theatrical yet steeped in traditional literary values, and most of all deeply American in its attitudes and political concerns. In two full-length plays, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, Kushner tells the story of a handful of people trying to make sense of the world. Prior is a man living with AIDS whose lover Louis has left him and become involved with Joe, an ex-Mormon and political conservative whose wife, Harper, is slowly having a nervous breakdown. These stories are contrasted with that of Roy Cohn, a fictional re-creation of the infamous American conservative ideologue who died of AIDS in 1986, and his attempts to remain in the closet while trying to find some sort of personal salvation in his beliefs.

But such a summary does not do justice to Kushner's grand plan, which mixes magical realism with political speeches, high comedy with painful tragedy, and stitches it all together with a daring sense of irony and a moral vision that demands respect and attention. On one level, the play is an indictment of the government led by Ronald Reagan, from the blatant disregard for the AIDS crisis to the flagrant political corruption. But beneath the acute sense of political and moral outrage lies a meditation on what it means to live with and die of AIDS, or anything else, in a society that cares less and less about human life and basic decency. The play's breadth and internal drive is matched by its beautiful writing and unbridled compassion.

Other plays to check out here: A Bright Room Called Day - Kushner, The Normal Heart - Larry Kramer, The Laramie Project - Moisés Kaufman

Hysteria (1993) by Terry Johnson
Hysteria is a fictionalising a real life 1938 meeting between Salvador Dalí and Sigmund Freud a year before the latter's death. Freud and Dali meet for tea at Freud's house in Hampstead one summer's afternoon in 1938. The play combines that meeting with the arrival of the mysterious Jessica, who brings serious charges against Freud relating to his treatment of her mother and his theory of presexual shock. In the last months of his illness, the exhausted Freud, trying to put his affairs in order, soon finds himself up to his neck explaining both his life's work and the female undergarments in his garden.

Other plays to check out here: Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick, Dead Funny and Hitchcock Blonde - all Johnson, References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot - José Rivera and My Night With Reg - Kevin Elyot

Art (1994) and God of Carnage (2006) by Yasmina Reza
How much would you pay for a white painting? Would it matter who the painter was? Would it be art? Art is the story of Marc. One of Marc's best friends, Serge, has just bought a very expensive painting. It's about five feet by four, all white with white diagonal lines. To Marc, the painting is a joke, but Serge insists Marc doesn't have the proper standard to judge the work. Another friend, Ivan, though burdened by his own problems, allows himself to be pulled into this disagreement. Eager to please, Ivan tells Serge he likes the painting. Lines are drawn and these old friends square off over the canvas, using it as an excuse to relentlessly batter one another over various failures. As their arguments become less theoretical and more personal, they border on destroying their friendships. At the breaking point, Serge hands Marc a felt tip pen and dares him: "Go on." This is where the friendship is finally tested, and the aftermath of action, and its reaction, affirms the power of those bonds.

God of Carnage is the fall-out caused by a playground altercation between eleven-year-old boys. Their argument brings together two sets of Brooklyn parents for a meeting to resolve the matter. At first, diplomatic niceties are observed, but as the meeting progresses, and the rum flows, tensions emerge and the gloves come off, leaving the couples with more than just their liberal principles in tatters.

Other plays to check out here: Life x 3 and The Unexpected Man - both Reza, The Low Road - Bruce Norris.

Closer (1997) by Patrick Marber 
Four lives intertwine over the course of four and a half years in this densely plotted, stinging look at modern love and betrayal. Dan, an obituary writer, meets Alice, a stripper, after an accident in the street. Eighteen months later, they are a couple, and Dan has written a novel inspired by Alice. While posing for his book jacket cover, Dan meets Anna, a photographer. He pursues her, but she rejects his advances despite their mutual attraction. Larry, a dermatologist, "meets" Dan in an Internet chat room. Dan, obsessing over Anna, pretends to be her and has cybersex with Larry. They arrange to meet the next day at an aquarium. Larry arrives and so too, coincidentally, does the real Anna. This sets up a series of pass-the-lover scenes in which this quartet struggle to find intimacy but can't seem to get closer.

Other plays to check out here: Dealer's Choice and Don Juan in Soho - both Marber.

The Weir (1997) by Conor McPherson
In a bar in rural Ireland, the local men swap spooky stories from Irish folklore, all ghosts, fairies and mysterious happenings, in an attempt to impress a young woman from Dublin who recently moved into a nearby "haunted" house. However, the tables are soon turned when Valerie tells her own: the reason why she has left Dublin, with another ghostly twist.

Other plays to check out here: The Seafarer and personal favourite Shining City - both McPherson, A Whistle in the Dark - Tom Murphy.

Hope you've enjoyed this next instalment of our post-1956 list.  I hope if you're reading this as a writer, actor director or other theatre interested person, that you might seek out some of the scripts mentioned here. If you want to say anything about what we've written or suggest plays we've missed then please tweet us - @act2playwriting or find us on Facebook and write on our wall - Act 2.