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Student Blog: My Three Favorite Plays I've Read This Year, and Why Everyone Should Read Them

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Does it ever feel like the plays you're told to read just don't feel relevant? Maybe have a look at these.

Student Blog: My Three Favorite Plays I've Read This Year, and Why Everyone Should Read Them In the same way that a satisfying Thanksgiving dinner requires a great deal of attention to detail (cook the turkey at the right temperature, put just the right amount of salt in the pie crust, arrange the hors d'oeuvres in just the right way), a full theatre education requires a great deal of independent play reading. Sure, we're all assigned plays to read in our classes, but those are only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to explore in terms of theatrical writing than Williams, Mamet, Miller, or Shakespeare, and not all of those works, if any, will be taught in most college theatre classes. College is the time where all of us are really finding ourselves, and it only makes sense to be finding out what material draws us in so that we can work on what we truly connect with.

In the past year, I have read a myriad of plays outside of my classes, and while I've enjoyed most of them, three in particular have stuck to me not just as favorites, but as plays that I believe should be read by everyone, not just theatre students.

1) Mary Jane by Amy Herzog

Whew. When I read this one, I felt like my brain had been temporarily transported to another dimension. In the play, Mary Jane is a young mother with a two-year-old son named Alex, and Alex suffers from a great many health issues, having been born twenty-five weeks early with a brain bleed. Mary Jane meets quite a few people while caring for her son, such as nurses (and one of their nieces), a Buddhist nun, a Facebook friend, a building superintendent, and even a music therapist, just to name a few. Mary Jane isn't a typical medical drama though, despite its potential to be. Instead, Herzog takes this setup and turns it into a seemingly casual glimpse at a mother and a sick son, sacrificing the element of a typical plot in order to finely characterize our protagonist and her visitors and, as a result, humanizing what could easily be portrayed as an onstage episode of Grey's Anatomy. If you're a fan of Waiting for Godot or other absurdist works, this should definitely be the top of your list. Absurdist works, because they lack a real plot and instead focus on employing rather meaningless or confusing situations and repetitious or disjointed dialogue, are a "zoom-out lens" on humanity that are meant to send audiences into deep thoughts about life and existence. Mary Jane is definitely no exception to this, which is why everyone should read it. We all need a nice brain stretch from time to time.

2) eat and you belong to us by MJ Kaufman

It's no secret that genderqueer theatre artists are constantly in search of material in which they can see themselves, and eat and you belong to us is a play that has plenty of genderqueer representation. The story centers around Jaime, a genderqueer teen obsessed with Joan of Arc, and the transgender grandparent with whom xe shares this obsession. Kaufman utilizes several mythical elements, starting the action off with Grandparent waking up from their surgery speaking French and Jaime being magically transported to medieval France by a cult of "Joans." By exploring gender identities and mythicism, Kaufman gives clear messages of greater acceptance, as the play does deal with exclusion even in supposedly inclusive environments. Having two members of different generations discovering who they truly are is another wonderful part of this work, and it serves a reminder that different generations are meant to learn from each other. Overall, eat and you belong to us deserves to be at the top of the reading list, both inside and outside of class.

3) Phoebe in Winter by Jen Silverman

This is another one that sent me into a headspin. Jen Silverman never fails to create a sort of slightly altered reality that falls just sort of abstraction in all of their plays- that is, she does not quite fit the abstract category, but her writing certainly can't be called "realism" either. Phoebe in Winter is the perfect example of this. The play begins with three brothers returning home to their father and housekeeper from a distant war, and the action is ignited by the arrival of a young girl named Phoebe who claims that her brothers were killed, and demands, gun in hand, that these three brothers now be her brothers' replacement. The family agrees to take her in, and although Phoebe calls this a restoration of calm and order, the tension is palpable. In particular, the interactions between Boggett, the housekeeper, and Phoebe create such a level of suspense that just reading them is enough to make you hold your breath, wondering just what will occur and who will cause it. Silverman's creation of a steady destruction within a home is gripping enough, but it's their command of language that puts this play above others. The stage directions and dialogue are both full of poetic phrases and wildly vivid images, my favorite example being Phoebe's line, "I think you put your face against a woman's neck once, and she smelled like this. You put your face against her neck and later gave her money. She wasn't your mother, though." This is the kind of writing that should be read by anyone who reads. After all, don't we read so our imagination can help us see the author's images as clearly as possible?

Yes, theatre students will read plenty of Neil Simon and Henrik Ibsen in class, and I'm sure everyone had to read Death of a Salesman or A Streetcar Named Desire in high school English, but these three plays are examples of what lies beyond the supposed classics, and they're just begging to be read. So if Chekhov isn't churning your soul, check out these three plays, or other works by these authors. After all, theatre is art, and art is so multifaceted that there's always something for everyone.


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