BWW Exclusive: The 101 GREATEST PLAYS of the Past 100 Years (1920-2020)

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BWW Exclusive: The 101 GREATEST PLAYS of the Past 100 Years (1920-2020)

Creating a list, even a seemingly simple Top-10, is never easy; now stretch that number out to 101 and it becomes quite a Herculean task. Difficult, sure, but not impossible. Especially when dealing with works of art, in this case plays, something that so many people have varying and sometimes heated opinions. List-makers like myself can never make everyone happy; but we have to be true to ourselves and true to our goal: Creating the best list possible, using a rubric and making sure that most of the important plays, playwrights and genres are represented. But it also means not being afraid of that "off" choice, a lesser-known play of such quality that it shines brighter than more popular shows.

Please note that none of these on the 101 are musicals; that list must wait for a later date. (Yes, shows like Amadeus and Master Class use music that's integral to telling their stories, but neither is considered a proper stage musical.)

Arthur Miller, Edward Albee and August Wilson lead all of the playwrights with the most number of works on the list (four each); that means that these three writers, together, constitute for more than one-tenth of the entire entries. Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, Noel Coward and Harold Pinter are represented by three works each. And plenty of playwrights have more than one play here: Thornton Wilder, Lynn Nottage, Annie Baker, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Terrence McNally, Sam Shepard, Michael Frayn, Lillian Hellman, David Mamet, Lanford Wilson, Stephen Adly Guirgis, and George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart. Many talented writers and theatre earth-shakers have just one work represented; when choosing how to showcase someone like T.S. Eliot, what do you pick: The Cocktail Party or Murder in the Cathedral? Please scroll down to see which of these plays earned the nod.

I am also pleased to find that many female writers and playwrights of color are represented here.

The oldest play that made the cut is from 1921; the most current, from 2019. So the list certainly runs the gamut. (For the record, the #102 entry would have been Agnes of God.)

In the end, you won't agree with the entire list, nor should you. You may feel that a playwright has been criminally overlooked, or one has too many plays mentioned. You may disagree with the order as well (and yes, these are in order, the best of the best). It's all subjective, but using a rubric, I try at least to make the inevitable subjectivity a little more objective. (Of course there are some idiosyncratic picks, but that's what makes an enterprise like this so special.) Remember, this is a list of the "greatest" plays, the "best," as opposed to my personal favorites. Hopefully, if there is a work unrecognizable to you, you will seek it out to read or to see if possible when we get back into the swing of things; that's why I do this in the first place...to get you exploring!

So, while you stay at home during these tough times of social distancing, here's my official 101 to take your mind off the current crisis. Get ready to debate, defend, agree, disagree...but mainly to have lots of fun. Enjoy!

THE 101 GREATEST PLAYS FROM THE PAST 100 YEARS (1920-2020}

1. LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT by Eugene O'Neill [1956]

For films, we offer Citizen Kane to the world. For TV shows, Breaking Bad. "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan is the choice for songs, while the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is usually picked for Best Album. And for novels, The Great Gatsby, Don Quixote or Ulysses usually nab the crown. All of these have been chosen in various polls as the greatest works in their specific category. And then there's Eugene O'Neill's posthumously produced LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, the finest American play ever written and arguably the best theatrical work of the past 100 years.

In it, a lifetime is captured in a single day in August of 1912, the same year as the Titanic disaster. But the Tyrone summer cottage in Connecticut is home to its own kind of disaster. The father, James, is an actor whose poverty-filled childhood caused him to be an unsympathetic miser; was his cheapness in finding an affordable doctor for his wife the initial cause of her addiction? The wife, Mary, had been an addict for 24 years and has been lost in a constant fog since her youngest son's painful childbirth; is he, just by being born, an unwitting accomplice to her morphine nightmare? James' sons are a troubled lot--one of them, Jamie, an alcoholic on a treacherous path; the other, Edmund, a terribly sick young man who must witness his family's agonizing slide. We follow each of them, from morning to evening, as they head further and further into nighttime's abyss. In the end, it doesn't matter that LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT is considered the magna cum laude of the American theatre experience. The power is in the play itself, experiencing this masterpiece of bruised beauty--terrifying, pulverizing, a wallop in the gut.

2. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE by Tennessee Williams [1947]

It's a war, nothing less, a battle in New Orleans in Tennessee Williams' masterpiece. Blanche DuBoise versus Stanley Kowalski. Illusion versus reality. Idealism versus cynicism. Flighty dreams versus grounded contemptuousness. The idea of love versus the reality of hate. A paper moon versus the drab earth. Blue blood versus blue collar. A wounded angel versus a demon with a chip on his shoulder. A proto-Snowflake versus a proto-Deplorable. And a lost moth versus its all-knowing exterminator. There is always something new to find in every production of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, a play that will never grow old.

3. DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller [1949]

"Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman has got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory," says Willie Loman's next door neighbor, Charley, near the end of DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Arthur Miller's examination of a dispirited man's failures and eventual suicide. Is Willy Loman a proper tragic character? Usually, a classic tragic figure has to fall from some position of power due to fate. That's not what happened to Willy. His tragic flaw was that he never knew who he really was, spending more time on his back stoop (his true passion) than being a salesman; he had the wrong dream all along. Biff, Willy's son, even says as much, at the funeral. It's not fate that killed Willy; it's capitalism, the unobtainable American Dream, the same dream that Biff is fleeing from and that will gobble up his brother, Happy, the way it devoured his dad. In a key scene, where Willy is fired by Howard, the don't-bother-me head of the company, we see how a man (Willy) is destroyed by an uncaring corporation (symbolized by Howard, who is far more interested in a tape recorder than with his employees). It's one of the more difficult scenes to encounter in any play, truly cringe-worthy. Even though Willy is oftentimes unsympathetic, with the screwiest priorities of any major protagonist in any Twentieth Century play, we pull for him here and throughout the show, our hearts breaking along with his family's. And there's nothing we can do to stop him from getting in that car one last time.

4. WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? by Edward Albee [1962]

"Truth or illusion, George; you don't know the difference," Martha says to her husband in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? And his retort? "No, but we must carry on as though we did." The most biting dialogue in any play--a verbal boxing match, as figuratively bloody as any Raging Bull pummeling--carries along this three-hour duel, involving two couples in an evening of game-playing (party games like Get the Guests, Humiliate the Host, and Hump the Hostess). Wickedly funny and depressing in the same breath. Audiences couldn't get enough, seeing themselves at their worst in Martha and George, Nick and Honey. Martha sums up her marriage best of all: "George who is out somewhere in the dark... George who is good to me, and whom I revile; who understands me, and whom I push off; who can make me laugh, and I choke it back in my throat; who can hold me, at night, so that it's warm, and whom I will bite so there's blood; who keeps learning the games we play as quickly as I can change the rules; who can make me happy and I do not wish to be happy, and yes I do wish to be happy. George and Martha: sad, sad, sad." Albee's 1962 masterpiece is both the pinnacle of Theatre of the Absurd and the Coming of Age of modern drama.

5. WAITING FOR GODOT by Samuel Beckett [1953]

Vladimir (aka Didi) and Estragon (aka Gogo) wait for a man named Godot who never arrives. That's the simple premise of the most talked about play of the past 100 years. Upon its debut in the early 1950's, it was lambasted by the public and critics, called everything form "an ugly little jet of marsh-gas" to a play that causes "angry boredom." But as Irish critic Vivian Mercier claimed, WAITING FOR GODOT has "achieved a theoretical impossibility--a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats." In the 1990's, four decades after its debut, it was named "the most significant English language play of the 20th century."

6. ANGELS IN AMERICA by Tony Kushner [1992]

Great art has the power to change us, to shake us, to remind us that we are not alone. It can connect or disconnect, it can humanize us or make us hate, it can entertain or make us think. But it must make us feel something in some capacity--joy, sorrow, whatever the case may be. I first encountered this play, actually two plays (Millennium Approaches and Perestroika), almost 28 years ago, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles--the first time both parts of Angels in America were shown together.. It was a year before the future Pulitzer/Tony-winner hit Broadway, and I sat afterwards unable to move. Seven hours of the best theater I had even seen, with just a dinner break separating Parts One and Two. I felt very protective of what I had just seen, like it was suddenly my own child. And then I got home and found out, via answering machine, that my grandfather had died. It was a moment where the power of art merged with my life events, and I realized then that Tony Kushner's masterwork is the greatest play written in the last 50 years.

7. FENCES by August Wilson [1985]

No playwright in modern times has achieved what August Wilson did with his Century Cycle of plays, chronicling black life in Pittsburgh through each decade of the Twentieth Century. This is beyond a stunning achievement; it's more like a miracle. There's nothing that compares to it: Starting with GEM OF THE OCEAN, then continuing with JOE TURNER'S COME & GONE (see below), MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM, THE PIANO LESSON, SEVEN GUITARS, FENCES, TWO TRAINS RUNNING, JITNEY (see below), KING HEDLEY II, and RADIO GOLF (see below). The highlight of that illustrious list--although any one of them could be showcased here inside the all-time top-10--is FENCES. Put it this way, in full knowledge of the obvious hyperbole: If the Century Cycle is Mr. Wilson's Sistine Chapel ceiling, then FENCES is his Creation of Man.

8. THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller [1953]

Arthur Miller, with more than a glance of Senator Joseph McCarthy's then-current Communist witch hunt, wrote this work in response, fueling one of the past century's most potent plays. There is no more powerful moment in theatre than when John Proctor, accused of witchcraft but given hope if he signs a confession, suddenly refuses to write down his name. "Because it is my name!" he pleads. "Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!" I have seen THE CRUCIBLE quite often, and this single moment near the end makes me cry every time.

9. A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorraine Hansberry [1959]

The plot of A RAISIN IN THE SUN is as well-known as most plays of the past 100 years. A black family in Chicago, the Youngers, live in roach-infested, cramped quarters and are looking for a means to move on up, but life, circumstances and their own shortcomings seem to get in the way. Walter Younger dreams of a better life, but never seems to be able to do anything about it, so his dreams remain just that--mere dreams. His wife gets pregnant and even wonders if it's best to abort the child rather than have it live in a house devoid of hope. Walter's 20-year-old sister, Bennie, is crackerjack smart, quirky, and knowledgeable, and is torn between two suitors--an understanding African man and a rich, but clueless man of color. Will her dreams of becoming a female doctor, hard at any time but near impossible in 1959, come to fruition? And Walter's mother, Lena, is strict in her ways but will do anything for her children and grandchild. A $10,000 check, made possible from the insurance of Lena's late husband, may change the fortune of this family, or will it? When a white man from the community where they want to move offers them lots of money NOT to move there, the family must decide between what is financially beneficial versus what is morally right. Hansberry's play stands as a testament of the power of the very best of American theatre, an inarguable classic that has not been cobwebbed, dated, over sixty years after its premiere.

10. OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder [1938]

In American plays, there are certain scenes that are iconic and stand as the best that this country's playwrights have to offer. Although we remember Act 1 of OUR TOWN, which focuses on every detail of a day in the life of a small town in 1901, it's Act 3, taking place years later, where Thornton Wilder's meaning really emerges. Various dead members of Grover's Corners sit in chairs (their graves), and Emily Webb, daughter of the town's newspaper editor, has died young and questions what it's all about. Even though she's dead, she gets to see one more day in the life of Grover's Corners, a random day that causes her much pain to witness, and she says goodbye to it all. No matter how Wilder wanted us to react, it's incredibly emotional, and OUR TOWN is so iconic, that we forget its deeper, darker meanings. I've heard people call it "quaint," or even "hokey." Grover's Corners, the New Hampshire town in OUR TOWN, may be quaint and hokey, but the play is anything but.

11. THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams [1945]

The finest (and first) memory play, guaranteed to make you weep. The show ran on Broadway for 563 performances, won the New York Drama Critic's Circle Award, and made Williams an instant star (lighting would strike twice for him, with A Streetcar Named Desire ready to run just two years away). An early review from the Chicago Tribune called it "a dream in the dust and a tough little play that knows people and how they tick." I wish I could take a Wayback Machine to experience its first run to see the legendary Laurette Taylor in the role of matriarch Amanda Wingfield, who many have cited as giving "the finest performance ever seen" onstage. No recording of her work in THE GLASS MENAGERIE exists, so we can only imagine her once-in-a-lifetime brilliance.

12. THE ICEMAN COMETH by Eugene O'Neill [1946]

If performed unedited, THE ICEMAN COMETH is well over five hours long. I know what you're saying. "Five hours? How can I deal with a show that's five hours long?" And my answer: It's easy, when a show is as powerful as this. We have to be adults here, and not everything needs to be spoon fed to our ADHD culture, where shows last an hour and half and become forgotten the morning after. We need to grow up, and I'm speaking to any fidgety audience members and those who are easily bored. THE ICEMAN COMETH is long but never tedious. Its scope is huge. How else can such epic subject matter--death, despair, broken illusions--be handled appropriately? It belongs on a giant canvas, the theatrical equivalent of Gericault's "Raft of the Medusa" in a barroom setting. It's big. Bigger than big. And I had no issue experiencing something of this length, not when so much is at stake with so many characters. It's a show that matters, with undiminished power, and one that is rarely if ever performed unexpurgated.

13. SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR by Luigi Pirandello [1921]

A family of unfinished characters interrupts the rehearsal of Pirandello's Mixing It Up in this. They were abandoned by their writer, their God, and want to stage their own unwritten play. Existential, a tragicomedy of sorts and certainly one of the most important plays on this list, SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR is a prototype of the Theatre of the Absurd.

14. MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN by Bertolt Brecht [1941]

Set during the Thirty Years War, in 17th century Europe, few works are as overtly and powerfully anti-war as Brecht's MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN. The playwright wrote the show in a whirlwind, a "white heat" as he called it, right after Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939. Showcasing Verfremdungseffekt, or "V" effect for short, (also called "epic theatre"), the play is presentational by design, where the actors change costumes on stage and use placards; the audience doesn't have to suspend disbelief that they are actually watching a play. And is there a better, wiser character than the beloved Mother Courage? As a proto-peacenik, she gets some of the plays most memorable lines, including this zinger: "War is like love, it always finds a way. Why should it end?"

15. RHINOCEROS by Eugene Ionesco [1959]

Ionesco's anti-conformity classic; like Brecht's MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN, written in response to burgeoning Nazism. Imagine seeing your friends, or people who you thought were your friends, suddenly succumbing to Nazi philosophies, most of them changing, even agreeing with the anti-Semitism that peppered their country into darkness. That's the world Ionesco faced. It must have been shattering. So, he captured the feeling of this using the broadest strokes possible--instead of Nazis in his play, the people turn into rhinos. It's quite funny, and you will laugh out loud during it, but you may also find yourself holding your gut at the same time. Chilling--like The Walking Dead or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with rhinos instead of zombies or pod people. Absurd, yes, but just as unnerving.

16. THE CHILDREN'S HOUR by Lillian Hellman [1934]

THE CHILDREN HOUR, about a child spreading gossip regarding imagined lesbianism between two teachers that destroys their school and lives, is still a disquieting experience almost ninety years after its creation. It's a major work when it comes to LGBTQ history, dealing with the horrors of homophobia (this is the reason that this was chosen in a higher position than Hellman's The Little Foxes; it's more important). At the time of its release in 1934, it was such a hot commodity that one of the Pulitzer members was too scared to see it based on its homosexual subject matter. Many of the show's supporters claimed that it lost the award (to the relatively forgotten The Old Maid) due to its gay themes, but the Pulitzer committee said that since the show was based on a court case, it wasn't eligible as an original drama. Whatever. This decision led to the creation of the New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards.

17. GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS by David Mamet [1984]

Ruthless Chicago real estate agents will do anything, including stealing "Glengarry leads" (potential clients' info) from their own office, in order to sell, sell, sell. Ricky Roma is the hot young successful salesman, charming and cutthroat, while Shelley "The Machine" Levene is getting too old, on his way out and needs to do anything for a sale. Only David Mamet can turn the ordinary doldrums of real estate sales into a provocative Darwinian survival of the fittest. The machine gun fast rat-tat-tat dialogue crackles better than any other play on this list.

18. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY by Tracy Letts [2007]

Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize winning play surrounds the disappearance of Beverly West, husband of the pill-popping Violet and patriarch of a trio of daughters and their families. Over several hot August days, family lies are unearthed, secrets revealed and any dirt that tries to be swept under the rug is exposed in an avalanche of raw emotions. It's a snapshot of a family in disintegration, a madhouse, both entertaining and uncomfortable. It is rightly considered one of the finest written American plays of the past three decades, just behind Tony Kushner's Angels in America.

19. THE HOMECOMING by Harold Pinter [1964]

Early critics dismissed it as "plotless" and "without meaning," but Pinter's THE HOMECOMING is far deeper than that. Cryptic and oddly moving, it represents the culmination of the great playwright's work, right down to his patented pauses. And it asks key questions: What really are family values? And what does familial love actually entail? As John Lahr wrote in The New Yorker, "THE HOMECOMING changed my life. Before the play, I thought words were just vessels of meaning; after it, I saw them as weapons of defense. Before, I thought theatre was about the spoken; after, I understood the eloquence of the unspoken..."

20. SAINT JOAN by George Bernard Shaw [1923]

"A Chronicle Play in 6 Scenes and an Epilogue," as Shaw called it. He somewhat romanticizes Joan of Arc, from a peasant girl hearing voices sent by God, to her eventual burning at the stake, and her ultimate canonization in a 1920's epilogue. It's the only Shaw play eligible for this list (Pygmalion was scribed in 1913, a full seven years before our 1920 start date) and is filled with so much richness of dialogue and character. "I could do without my warhorse," defiant Joan says at one point. "I could drag about in a skirt; I could let the banners and the trumpets and the knights and soldiers pass me and leave me behind as they leave the other women, if only I could still hear the wind in the trees, the larks in the sunshine, the young lambs crying through the healthy frost, and the blessed blessed church bells that send my angel voices floating to me on the wind. But without these things I cannot live; and by your wanting to take them away from me, or from any human creature, I know that your counsel is of the devil, and that mine is of God."

21. A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE by Arthur Miller [1955]

.Set in Red Hook, Brooklyn, during the 1950's, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE features Eddie, his wife Beatrice and their niece, Catherine, who lives with them. Eddie is a complex character, sort of an Archie Bunker workingman with the feelings of a Humbert Humbert. He's bogged down with Freudian yearnings for his niece and fearful of her growing up and moving away (every parents' fear, but not quite every uncle's). But all hell eventually breaks loose after Beatrice's Italian cousins enter the picture and one of them, Rodolpho, begins courting Catherine. Eddie keeps making accusations against Rodolpho. He's so obsessed with his niece and Rodolpho's burgeoning relationship that we suspect there may be even more to this story. Aside from Eddie's obsessive longing, and the fact that he hasn't been intimate with his wife for quite some time, we wonder if perhaps Eddie may be harboring something else hidden; perhaps the gay tendencies that he ascribes to Rodolpho may be his own. At one point he even says, regarding Rodolpho, "I mean, he looked so sweet there, like an angel...you could kiss him he was so sweet." But he is so conflicted from all angles that he cannot put into words any of his real feelings. But everyone around him--his family, his longshoreman friends--seems to know that something's amiss with Eddie. Only he isn't privy to that inner knowledge, and his self-denial will ultimately lead him on the path to tragedy. A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE is an underrated classic, just behind Death of a Salesman and The Crucible in Miller's oeuvre--a hidden gem whose story resonates sadly now more than ever.

22. CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF by Tennessee Williams [1955]

Although the plot mostly centers around Brick's relationship with his wife, Maggie the Cat, while visiting his dad's Mississippi plantation, it's the scenes between Brick and his dying father, Big Daddy, that hit home the most. "I've got the guts to die," Big Daddy tells his son. "What I want to know is, have you got the guts to live?" No wonder it's Williams' personal favorite.

23. THE HEIDI CHRONICLES by Wendy Wasserstein [1988]

"Women like us have to learn to give to those who appreciate it instead of to those who expect it," the title character says in THE HEIDI CHRONICLES, which spotlights the history of the feminist movement through the lead character's life. It includes one of theatre's more heartfelt-without-being-maudlin relationships, between Heidi and Scoop, who go from lovers to dear friends. Heidi's ultimate decision not to marry and still adopt a child as a single mother shows how far both she and society have gone.

24. FOOL FOR LOVE by Sam Shepard [1983]

A Mojave hotel, two former lovers, and a bombshell of a secret are the key ingredients of Sam Shepard's best play, what The Washington Post called "a twisted cowboy romance."

25. ALL MY SONS by Arthur Miller [1946]

Another criticism of the American Dream, this one based on a true story about a father who, during World War 2, shipped defective airline parts to the military and ultimately ended up killing 21 pilots. And yes, this is where the group Twenty One Pilots got its name.

26. "MASTER HAROLD"...AND THE BOYS by Athol Fugard [1982]

Dealing with institutionalized racism in the era of South Africa's apartheid, Fugard's semi-autobiographical "MASTER HAROLD"...AND THE BOYS follows teenage Hally (Harold) and his two middle-aged African servants, Sam and Willie. Frank Rich accurately predicted in The New York Times, "Mr. Fugard's drama - lyrical in design, shattering in impact - is likely to be an enduring part of the theater long after most of this Broadway season has turned to dust."

27. THE VORTEX by Noel Coward [1924]

The play that made Noel Coward a sensation, mainly due to his penchant for witty lines and the play's controversial subject matter (i.e. sex and drugs but way too early for rock n roll).

28. THE BALD SOPRANO by Eugene Ionesco [1950]

Another Theatre of the Absurd classic, this one surrounding Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Mr. and Mrs. Martin, both couples seemingly interchangeable. The play ends the way it begins, but instead of the Smiths, it's the exact same lines of dialogue spoken by The Martins. As Ionesco said, "The end becomes a new beginning but, since there are two couples in the play, it begins the first time with the Smiths and the second time with The Martins, to suggest the interchangeable nature of the characters: the Smiths are The Martins and The Martins are the Smiths."

29. ENDGAME by Samuel Beckett [1957]

A cyclical story that never seems to allow final closure, this is Beckett's second great work. While the elderly couple, Hamm and Clov, are living out their final years in a loop of sorts, with death never being far away, It's both funny and tragic, as summed up in the line, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness."

30. MACHINAL by Sophie Treadwell [1928]

Based on the true-life Snyder-Gray murder case, MACHINAL follows a young woman's slide from stenographer, to unhappy wife and mother, to adulteress, and ultimately to convicted murderer destined for the electric chair. Expressionistic, enthralling, cutting edge. Treadwell would become a pioneer, opening doors for so many strong female playwrights. In its first Broadway run, Clark Gable played the small part of "A Man" and was singled out in reviews as "young, vigorous, and brutally masculine."

31. NO EXIT by Jean-Paul Sartres [1944]

"Hell is other people." Meet Joseph Garcin, Inèz Serrano, and Estelle Rigault, three damned individuals who are eternally locked inside a room decorated in the style of the French Second Empire. They want to leave, and even when given the chance, find themselves staying in the room. Of all the plays on this list, this one may be closest to our present "social distancing" and "stay at home" circumstances.

32. THE LITTLE FOXES by Lillian Hellman [1939]

"Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes." (Chapter 2, Verse 15 of the Song of Solomon in the King James Bible). Hellman's play surrounds a Southern family's brutal tug of war with the family business. In a male dominated universe, Regina Giddens has to watch as her father has left his sons as his legal heirs. There are few more dramatic scenes than when Regina's husband, Horace, suffers a heart attack before getting the chance to change his will to block her out of it. She watches him, not once offering to help; he dies without being able to alter his will to his wishes. She gets everything. But never fear, we're in Hellman Land, and Regina, though now wealthy, gets her comeuppance: No one's there to enjoy her riches, and she finds it's literally lonely at the top. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Mark 8:36).

33. CLYBOURNE PARK by Bruce Norris [2010]

A sort-of sequel and re-imagining of A Raisin in the Sun, it's like a wickedly funny Godfather, Part 2. Act 1 deals with the white Chicago neighborhood talked about in A Raisin in the Sun and the house where the Younger family will move in 1959; Act 2 fast forwards 50 years in the future, where the area is now all-black and in the process of gentrification. Winner of all major awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.

34. THE FLICK by Annie Baker [2013]

Playwright Annie Baker understands the movie house life. More than that, she understands the world we currently live in. And her Pulitzer Prize winning play, THE FLICK, follows the paths of three employees of a rundown movie house in Massachusetts. Sam is a dowdy thirty-five-year-old who still lives with his parents and sees the much younger employees moving up in the world faster than he. Avery is a whip-smart movieholic film snob who is expert on a variation of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. And Rose is the quirky projectionist who stirs things up. In Baker's expert hands, these three go through quite a maze, a three-hour tour of emotional desolation and the search for purpose in the modern world. The genius of Baker is that we understand these characters better than many people in our own lives (we may know some of them, or in the case of THE FLICK, we may be some of them). We understand them through what is not said (Baker's signature long pauses), by mere looks and fragments of sentences. It's a show for movie lovers and theater aficionados (i.e. you, if you're reading this list).

35. GOD OF CARNAGE by Yasmina Reza [2006]

Yasmina Reza's script is rightfully considered one of the finest plays of the modern era. The storyline couldn't be any simpler. A well-to-do couple--Alan and Annette Raleigh--are in the stylishly decorated Brooklyn apartment of another couple--Michael and Veronica Nova--to deal with an incident involving their sons (the Raleigh's 11-year-old, "armed" with a stick, "disfigured" Novak's son by knocking out two teeth). But what follows is one of the funniest, sharpest, most acerbic and unpredictable shows in recent memory. In some ways, it resembles Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf with its pair of battling married couples, its table-turning game playing (it's sometimes like chess meets Twister), and the use of alcohol as a vehicle to shed the characters' inhibitions. In GOD OF CARNAGE, the characters are quite laughingly horrid and hilariously awful, and each one gets their moment to sink to the lowest of low behaviors. Reza's theme is clear--that no matter how much art we may have, or Cuban cigars, or expensive rum, modern men and women are really no better, no more evolved than Neanderthals.

36. NOISES OFF by Michael Frayn [1982]

What is the funniest play ever written? Opinions obviously vary, but I would certainly pick Michael Frayn's hilarious farce, NOISES OFF, to be near the top of that laugh list. The show opens at a final rehearsal of a really bad sex farce called "Nothing On." The cast gets confused as to whether a plate of sardines goes offstage or on, what to do with a phone receiver, and so on, much to the disgruntlement of the huffy director, Lloyd Dallas. Now that we know the ins and outs of "Nothing On," Act 2 shows us the backstage shenanigans of this motley crew of performers, as their personal relationships come to a head while "Nothing On" continues. Their silent mayhem-like infighting featuring bottles and an axe being passed around is like something out of an Ernie Kovacs routine. And Act 3 shows "Nothing On" once again, but this time on a very bad performance day when the cast has just about had it with each other. Plates of sardines get misplaced; door handles fall off; the cast never does get the phone right; and injuries become the rule not the exception. It's great fun, and if you have ever been onstage or worked backstage at a theatre, you will laugh especially hard at the farcical situations at hand.

37. DOUBT: A PARABLE by John Patrick Shanley [2004]

DOUBT does what its title suggests....it makes us doubt. The story is set in 1964, the last innocent year. Progress is coming, but Sister Aloysius Beauvier wants none of it. As Principal of St. Nicholas Catholic Church and School, she wants everything in its right place, perfect, unchanged. She cannot stand progress, exemplified by the caring, tender, gregarious Father Brendan Flynn. But Sister Aloysius is a rock of unwavering certainty, and she thinks that this particular priest is the worst thing to happen to her school. She doesn't like him or the way he does things--such as adding "Frosty the Snowman" to the Christmas pageant. And she suspects, with much certitude, that this nice priest may have "had his way" with a 12-year-old male student. What's the real story, who is right or wrong, and who survives by certainty and falls by doubt? It's riveting stuff, to say the least.

38. THE DUMB WAITER by Harold Pinter [1957]

Two hit men, Jerry and Gus, wait in a windowless basement for orders of their next "hit" when they keep being sent mysterious deliveries via a dumb waiter (a serving hatch and food elevator). Little does Gus know, but he is the mysterious next target. It's Theatre of the Absurd, and gives more than a wink to Waiting for Godot (it's like Godot meets Road to Perdition). Who is sending them the mysterious orders through the dumb waiter? Are Jerry and Gus stuck in a meaningless universe, a kind of purgatory, and being toyed with by an unseen power, maybe God?

39. RADIO GOLF by August Wilson [2005]

Set in 1997, August Wilson's underrated RADIO GOLF focuses on Harmond Wilks, the potential first black mayor of Pittsburgh, who along with wife, Mame, and friend Roosevelt Hicks, vice president of Mellon Bank, want to save Pittsburgh's rundown Hill District. They actually want to "rebuild" the area and put in a medical center named after the first black registered nurse in the area, Sarah Degree, as well as a Whole Foods, Barnes & Nobles and Starbucks. But a major problem arises. A dilapidated house that they want to demolish for their dream project, a home of significant history, actually belongs (legally) to someone else, an elderly man that goes by the name Ol' Joe. Will Harmond buy the old man out in order to get rid of the eyesore? Will he turn his back on his race and live the (financially lucrative) dreams of the white man? Or, in the end, will Harmond wind up doing the right thing and join the oppressed, the fighters, providing a voice for the voiceless and ultimately saving his community's history (and his soul)?

40. TRUE WEST by Sam Shepard [1980]

Austin and Lee, the estranged brothers at the heart of TRUE WEST, are two of the best-written characters in modern drama.

41. THE ZOO STORY by Edward Albee [1958]

Peter and Jerry, two opposites, meet on a park bench near New York's Central Park, Jerry trying to get the inhibited family man, Peter, to ultimately kill him. Albee started writing this One Act for his thirtieth birthday, and what a present he finally gave to himself and the world!

42. 4000 MILES by Amy Herzog [2011]

The title 4000 MILES refers to the distance a young twenty-something, Leo, has traveled by bicycle to New York City where he will stay at the rent-controlled Greenwich Village apartment of his 91-year-old grandmother, Vera. Leo enters as one person--an unwashed millennial with no realistic pursuits--and leaves a man, a full human being who, due to his weeks with his grandmother, emerges a survivor much as she has been for nine decades. His growth and his complicated relationship with the leftist elder is what the play is about. There are secrets and twists, slowly revealed to us, but at the show's heart is Leo and his grandmother, both so different due to their ages, but both so similar and connected. It is rare to see such a deep relationship unfold. It is so real, so meaningful, that each audience member will see themselves on that stage--whether they identify with Leo or with Vera. It's a true beauty of a play, an authentic, moving piece of theatre, and it earns all of its tears and laughter. Not once does it ever ring false.

43. SWEAT by Lynn Nottage [2015]

If you ever wondered why Pennsylvania went red and voted for Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential election, then you may not have been surprised if you had read or seen Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning SWEAT, which debuted the year before. Set in a bar in Reading, PA, Nottage's play focuses on blue collar individuals, "the forgotten people," factory workers whose friendships are tested through racism, union strikes, and jobs being shipped to Mexico. Nottage had her finger on the pulse of the nation, but did we listen?

44. COPENHAGEN by Michael Frayn [1998]

With main characters like Werner Heisenberg (a theoretical physicist known for his uncertainty principle), and Niels Bohr (the Nobel Prize winning physicist whose specialty was atomic structure and quantum theory), COPENHAGEN is certainly not a retread of Grown Ups 2. But don't get me wrong; it's not a dour piece, never boring, so don't expect some barren Strindberg groaner, either. (The lead character's name is Bohr, not Bore.) COPENHAGEN is quite entertaining, fun in all of its nonlinear glory, hopscotching through time and space, from ghostly consciousness to earthly debates. It's a mystery of sorts, one that plays out a variety of possibilities: Why did Werner Heisenberg visit Copenhagen in 1941? What did the German want with the Danish Bohr during the Hitler era? What exactly did he say to Niels Bohr on their brief walk together, away from any potential eavesdroppers? The reason could be anything, from self-pride to the potential end of the world as we know it in a race for the creation of the first atomic bomb. The playwright, Michael Frayn, is best known for scribing the popular farce, Noises Off. As different as they are, COPENHAGEN and Noises Off share an undeniable smartness in plot and language. But COPENHAGEN is equally inventive but messier, more free-flowing in its ideas, but also more unpredictable and in its own way, more enjoyable on a far deeper level. It's not as easily accessible as Noises Off, nor would you expect it to be; it is a play about ideas, both abstract and concrete, fantastical and historical, small as an atom and large as an atomic bomb explosion.

45. LOOK BACK IN ANGER by John Osborne [1956]

With this, theatre was no longer just a fluffy means of escape; LOOK BACK IN ANGER acted as a mirror to the harsher realities of life. It also proved quite influential, spawning the term "angry young men" to describe Osborne and his unflinching generation.

46. THE WOMEN by Clare Booth Luce [1936]

One of the key plays of the 1930's, this comedy of manners about rich Manhattan socialites featured an all-female cast of thirty-three, unheard of at the time. In a letter dated August 30, 1937, to my Uncle Albert, his then-girlfriend, Ethel, wrote the following about her trip to New York City: "Yesterday we went to Jones Beach with my niece and her hubby and to Radio City last night. We saw the play "THE WOMEN" on Friday night...which we thought marvelous."

47. CRIMES OF THE HEART by Beth Henley [1979]

Three sisters in Mississippi come together after one of them has shot her abusive husband. Their family is the definition of "dysfunctional," including their mother's suicide years earlier (she hung herself and, for unknown reasons, the family cat). Henley proved to be a new voice on the scene, paving the way for the wonderful torrent of female playwrights that followed her lead.

48. WHAT THE BUTLER SAW by Joe Orton [1967]

Orton died at the hands of his significant other, Kenneth Halliwell, in August of 1967. He had finished this a month before, and it's now considered his posthumous masterpiece, WHAT THE BUTER SAW (first performed in 1969). The show is beyond chaotic, with psychiatrists acting like mental patients, wives covering up sordid affairs, cross-dressing, and a phallic Winston Churchill prop that plays a key part. Dr. Rance, inspecting the lecherous psychiatrist, Dr. Prentice, decides to jot down his findings: "The final chapters of my book are knitting together: incest, buggery, outrageous women and strange love-cults catering for depraved appetites. All the fashionable bric-a-brac." Orton is perhaps the most savagely funny playwright since Wilde, hence his moniker, "The Oscar Wilde of the Welfare State."

49. THE ODD COUPLE by Neil Simon [1965]

THE ODD COUPLE, easily identified as Neil Simon's masterpiece, has become an industry of sorts since its Broadway premiere in 1965. There was the initial Broadway run of 964 performances that closed in 1967; the classic 1968 film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as Felix and Oscar; the beloved TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman; the Saturday morning cartoon (The Oddball Couple featuring Spiffy, the clean Cat, and Fleabag, the messy dog); the female version written in 1985 which substituted Olive and Florence for Oscar and Felix, and Trivial Pursuit for poker; more stage versions, including a memorable one starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane; and more network versions, including a more recent variation with Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon that ended its TV run in 2017. Whew, that's a lot of Odd Couples that we've smilingly endured these past 50 years, but it's also proof that we still rightfully mine its comic gold.

50. THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich [1955]

Based on teenage Anne Frank's actual writings, about a Jewish family in Amsterdam in the 1940's, forced into hiding in an attic to evade a fate at the hands of the Nazis. We see the life in this attic through a young girl's eyes, her yearning, her questioning, her positive outlook in a time of horror. No one who experiences it is unmoved. If Anne Frank can find goodness in the world under the threat of her and her family's impending doom, then what's stopping us from having a positive outlook on the world. Maybe it would make us think twice about being upset or put-out if given a stay-at-home proclamation during a pandemic.

51. RED by John Logan [2009]

RED takes place at that key time when Abstract Expressionism and its proponents (Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, William de Kooning, Barnett Newman) would be eclipsed by the next best thing in the art world, Pop Art. As Rothko says (but maybe doesn't want to believe regarding himself), "Everything worthwhile ends. We are in the perpetual process now: creation, maturation, cessation." Pollack has been dead a couple of years, and Mark Rothko was the leading, surviving cheerleader (or last grasp) of Abstract-Expressionism. He might take pride in having stomped Cubism to death ("The child must banish the father. Respect him, but kill him"), but he cannot accept his own artistic mortality at the hands of the "vapid" pop artists. The show turns out to be both an art history lesson and a character study, a debate between two sides (the intellectual versus the touchy-feely) and a loving tribute to art itself. It's a beautifully written ode to the idea of change, using this specific moment in time and Rothko at its center.

52. ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD by Tom Stoppard [1966]

The minor courtiers from Hamlet get the star treatment in this quasi-Absurdist tragicomedy, more Waiting for Godot than Shakespeare's Prince of Denmark. The title comes from an actual line in Hamlet, when the British Ambassador announces near the end that "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead."

53. PICNIC by William Inge [1953]

It's a lifetime in a day in a small Kansas town, the day before Labor Day where everyone is preparing for the big picnic. Sexual repression and longing desire fill the young people's lives, and the show certainly pushed the envelope at its time. (It comes across very tame today.). But it's a snapshot into middle America nearly seventy years ago--the rights of passage and the idealistic hopes for things that we can never obtain.

54. THE BOYS IN THE BAND by Matt Crowley [1968]

"You're singing for yourself and the boys in the band" (James Mason to Judy Garland in 1954's A Star Is Born). Yes, THE BOYS IN THE BAND is dated, and it's a good thing it is (it means the world has made a lot of progress). But it's filled with many antiquated stock characters and stereotypes at a very memorable birthday party (the nelly, the butch, the bitch, the alcoholic, the cowboy hat donning hustler, the outsider is-he-or-isn't-he-straight-guy, etc.). The morbid self-loathing of some of the men is shocking to today's sensibilities ("Show me a happy homosexual and I'll show you a gay corpse," one character says). It also sometimes comes across too stagey, too theatrical for its own good (especially with the forced telephone game), but its importance cannot be diminished. It changed both theatre and the world, where middle class audiences could see and empathize with a group of men who, at the time (a year before Stonewall), were officially labeled as having a "mental illness." Art is always ahead of the curve, so times would change (and thank God for that).

55. THE DUTCHMAN by Amiri Baraka [1964]

One of the most startling, upsetting, armrest-gripping plays on race ever written, DUTCHMAN's title brings to mind the slave ships that carried so many young black men and women across the Atlantic. Taking place on a New York City subway, a white woman, Lula, confronts a black man, aptly named Clay (she, like society, will try to mold him to her wants). She bites an apple, a modern-day Eve, and flirts with him, feeding him her apples. Once he doesn't succumb to her wiles, she mocks him, his white speech, his college education, and his suits and tie. He answers her in one of the most extraordinary monologues ever: "You telling me what I ought to do," he says. "Well, don't! Don't tell me anything! If I'm a middle-class fake white man...let me be. And let me be in the way I want. You don't know anything except what's there for you to see. An act. Lies. Device. Not the pure heart, the pumping black heart. You don't ever know that. And I sit here in this buttoned-up suit to keep myself from cutting all your throats..." As Clay get up to leave, Lula stabs him, before moving on to another victim. Audiences were stunned speechless. The provocative play made its points on race boldly, harrowingly, and instantly carved its place in theater history, helping open the consciousness of modern audiences, both black and white.

56. THE ALIENS by Annie Baker [2010]

THE ALIENS follows two thirty-something neo-bohemian slackers who hang out behind a hip (but not too hip) Vermont coffee shop; they are so detached from society that they can't even bother to sit inside. They chain-smoke, occasionally sing, and spew Charles Bukowski quotations ("the laureate of lowlifes," as he was once tagged). Jasper is a high school dropout turned would-be novelist, and KJ quit college and just sort of lies around (oftentimes on top of a picnic table) in and out of an odd alcohol or drug torpor. There is a third character, Evan, an outsider in his own right (he may be a 17-year-old employee at the coffee shop, but he's also a band geek); he is awed by his encounters with Jasper and KJ. Sounds simple enough, but I recall very few plays that I've loved in quite the same manner as this. We feel protective of it, the way we do with that one outsider friend that nobody else seems to quite understand. These guys are classic outcasts, who think and live outside the box (literally), and we celebrate the entertaining, quietly crazed and at times heartbreaking time we spend with them.

57. AMERICAN BUFFALO by David Mamet [1975]

Having owned a collectible shop myself, I sympathized with the junk shop owner, Don, who thinks he undersold a valuable Buffalo nickel. (I did the same thing with an Alfred Hitchcock self-portrait; I just never thought of stealing it back like Don and his cohorts.). Although Mamet had been recognized as promising prior to this (especially with Sexual Perversity in Chicago), this solidified his position as one of the top playwrights of the 1970's and 1980's.

58. THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? by Edward Albee [2002]

Using Greek tragedies as his guide, Edward Albee tackles the "problem play" and breaks social taboos and questions what we constitute as "morality" with this absolutely bonkers play. In it, a husband/father named Martin admits to his family on his 50th birthday that he has fallen in love with a goat named Sylvia. Stevie, Martin's wife, thinks her husband's "unconventional" affair is a joke at first: "Knowing it--knowing it's true is one thing, but believing what you know... well, there's the tough part. We all prepare for jolts along the way, disturbances of the peace, the lies, the evasions, the infidelities, - if they happen. I've never had an affair, by the way, all our years together; not even with a cat...anything." By Act 2, Stevie goes ballistic at the news of her husband's infidelity and bestiality, and the family, once so strong, crumbles into chaos, with plenty of twists and turns along the way.

59. INHERIT THE WIND by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee [1955]

INHERIT THE WIND, which focuses on the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, is still quite timely, sadly so. Not just the issues at hand (creationism versus evolution) but in how we deal with them. Our country is still divided on religious grounds, maybe more than ever. And there is a coarseness and a lack of empathy out there these days, many of these vices ironically coming from some of the more religious members of our country (and world). In this era where something like Idiocracy looks like a documentary, maybe another Scopes-like trial will rear its head. Maybe we will still need to defend our "ability to think." It's depressing that, 95 years after the events of the play, we still haven't evolved that much as a society, have we?

60. WIT by Margaret Edson [1995]

WIT takes place in the final hour of the life of Dr. Vivien Bearing, a university professor dying of ovarian cancer. "I have cancer," she says, "insidious cancer, with pernicious side effects-no, the treatment has pernicious side effects...I have stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer. There is no stage five. Oh, and I have to be very tough. It appears to be a matter, as the saying goes, of life and death." Edson's brilliantly written play was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Best New Play from the New York Drama Critics' Circle, but WIT didn't hit Broadway until 2012 and, therefore, was sadly not eligible for the Best Play Tony upon its initial powerful run.

61. THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH by Thornton Wilder [1942]

"My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of our teeth" (Job 19:20). One of the oddest plays on the list (similar to Joyce's incredibly difficult Finnegans Wake), THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH follows the Antrobus family of New Jersey as they replay the history of mankind, from the discovery of fire to Abel's murder to an impending Ice Age. "And my advice to you is not to inquire into why or whither," the character Sabina says, "but to enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate; that's my philosophy." To use a bad pun, it's Wilder than wild.

62. PRIVATE LIVES by Noel Coward [1930].

"I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives" (Amanda in PRIVATE LIVES). The set-up sounds like a situation comedy: A divorced couple, both with new spouses on their honeymoon at the same hotel, realize that they have feelings for one another even though they could never get along. What separates it from other situation comedies is Coward's quick-witted turns of phrase, killer quips and dagger-like dialogue, like this: Amanda: "Whose yacht is that?" Elyot: The Duke of Westminster's I expect. It always is." Amanda: "I wish I were on it." Elyot: "I wish you were too."

63. BETRAYAL by Harold Pinter [1978]

Reverse in told being from most benefits show the; Jerry, friend husband's her and Emma between affair clandestine the examines Pinter. [Or in other words: Pinter examines the clandestine affair between Emma and her husband's friend, Jerry; the show benefits most from being told in reverse.]

64. JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE by August Wilson [1984]

Set in 1911 at Seth Holly's Pittsburgh boardinghouse, August Wilson's powerful JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE primarily deals with the African-American search for identity, lost heritage and redemption. It tackles issues that are spiritual and realistic, religious and historic. As often been noted, not since Tennessee Williams has a playwright of this caliber been able to capture dialogue that is beautifully poetic and natural at once.

65. TORCH SONG TRILOGY by Harvey Fierstein [1982]

A groundbreaker, dealing with LGBTQ issues like marriage equality and gay adoption years before the country would follow. In TORCH SONG TRILOGY, we follow Arnold Beckoff, a gay Jewish drag queen throughout the various stages of his life: Looking for love in all the right places (International Stud); having his current lover meet a former lover and his wife out in the country (Fugue in a Nursery); and ultimately to his current circumstances, being a parent and lover who's forced to confront his visiting mother (Widows and Children First). Without the award-winning TORCH SONG TRILOGY leading the way, you wouldn't have the mainstream likes of Will and Grace or Queer as Folk, both nearly two decades after Fierstein unapologetically burst open Broadway's closet door.

65. THE INHERITANCE by Matthew Lopez [2018]

"Perhaps the most important American play of this century," according to The Telegraph. And if not, it's pretty close. This seven-hour epic, based on EM Forster's Howard's End (Forster even appears as a character here), shows three generations of gay men and how AIDS created a void in one of those generations. Although didactic at times, with an unnecessary epilogue, it's one of the most talked about recent plays to hit Broadway. And the ending of Part 1--when the ghosts of People with AIDS walk on the stage one by one in a kind of heartbreaking parade of loss--is still perhaps the single most moving moment of any play in many years. If you don't cry during it, then something's wrong.

66. LOVE! VALOR! COMPASSION! by Terrence McNally [1994]

One summer in a Duchess County vacation home; three holiday weekends; eight gay men. McNally, may he rest in peace, has a knack with the one-liners, and this is one of his more personal works, the one to see whenever it plays near you.

67. GLORIA by Branden Jacob-Jenkins [2015]

At the center of this pulverizing satire is a normal workday shockingly interrupted when Gloria, the "office freak," shoots several of her fellow workers to death. In a twist just as shocking, the survivors of the violence debate which one of them deserves to get a book deal since they were on the front lines of a national news story. The New York Times claims the show to be about our "cannibal culture" in a "whip-smart satire of fear and loathing..." As Nick Hoop, a very knowledgeable (and tough) theater connoisseur, told me recently: "I'm convinced [GLORIA] may be the most important play of the 21st Century. It's almost overwhelming how carefully constructed it is in its satire."

68. SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION by John Guare [1990]

A black man posing as Sidney Poitier's son dupes a wealthy art dealer, Flan, and his wife, Ouisa, in this scrumptious hit by playwright Guare. Ouisa's monologue near the end of the play, which provides the work's title, is one for the ages: "I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice. Fill in the names. I find that A) tremendously comforting that we're so close and B) like Chinese water torture that we're so close. Because you have to find the right six people to make the connection. It's not just big names. It's anyone. A native in a rain forest. A Tierra del Fuegan. An Eskimo. I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people. It's a profound thought...." And a profound play.

69. RUINED by Lynn Nottage [2007]

Set in a Democratic Republic of Congo mining town (with the sounds of the tropical Ituri rain forest), RUINED is an evocative, penetrating play about the buoyancy of the human spirit in a war-town world. Mama Nadi is an updated Mother Courage in a tattered country split by civil war in this ingenious, Brechtian reimagining, a modern classic.

70. AMADEUS by Peter Shaffer [1979]

Antonio Salieri, the court composer of Joseph II and secret rival and backstabber of prodigious composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, plays second fiddle only to Iago as the greatest duplicitous villain in all of drama.

71. MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL by T.S. Eliot [1935]

"The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason." Eliot's virtuoso verse-drama (an excess of poetry rather than plot) about the events from December 1170: The assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the Canterbury Cathedral. Experience this to see why T.S. Eliot is the finest poet of the past century.

72. SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH by Tennessee Williams [1959]

With its gigolo protagonist and faded Hollywood movie star, this comes across as Tennessee Williams' much more sordid version of Sunset Boulevard as a road journey set in St. Cloud, Florida. (Call it Lakeshore Boulevard.)

73. THE HUMANS by Stephen Karam [2016]

Another examination of the American family during a particularly hairy Thanksgiving, this winds up having an abundance of heart and soul. As Jesse Green wrote in Vulture: : "It is still the most, well, human play I've ever seen about fear and disappointment and the attachments that transcend them."

74. THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER by George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart [1939]

Sheridan Whiteside, the obnoxious wit stuck in a wheelchair in a small Ohio town to the dismay and put-upon horror of those around him, is theatre's great snooty, insufferable barb-thrower. He may just be the funniest blowhard since Falstaff, with movie comic Banjo, modeled after Harpo Marx, coming a close second in the hilarity department.

75. STRANGE INTERLUDE by Eugene O'Neill [1928]

O'Neill's five-act experimental Pulitzer Prize winner incorporated soliloquys where the characters speak their inner feelings to the audience. As the main character, Nina, says, "Our lives are merely strange dark interludes in the electrical display of God the Father!"

76. THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE by William Saroyan [1939]

"In the time of your life, live," William Saroyan writes, "so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed." Welcome to Nick's Pacific Street Saloon, Restaurant and Entertainment Palace in San Francisco where Joe, a proto-slacker with money, becomes the conductor of the quirky lives of its lively barflies.

77. MARAT/SADE by Peter Weiss [1964]

Also known as The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. Brechtian, MARAT/SADE, set in the Charenton Asylum, is a "play within a play" where the actors are the inmates of the asylum and the nurses and supervisors sometimes intervene to preserve order. Actually, the real Marquis de Sade directed performances at the asylum, and it probably was as marvelously crazy, laced with mayhem, as this.

78. GOOD PEOPLE by David Lindsay-Abaire [2011]

David Lindsay-Abaire's script instantly connects with audiences. It opens in the alley behind a Dollar Store where Margie (pronounced with a hard "g" in the middle), a struggling, opinionated Boston "Southie," is fired for consistent tardiness. She has to pay rent to her landlady, Dottie, while her outspoken pal, Jean, mentions running into a man from their past: Mike, a former high school beau of Margie's. This leads to Margie eventually coming face to face with him--a former Southie but now a fertility specialist who is currently "lace-curtain Irish," a phrase of Margie's which is not intended as a compliment. Obviously uncomfortable by Margie's presence, Mike is forced to invite her to his upcoming birthday gala at his posh Chesnut Hill home. When Mike later calls her to cancel the party invitation due to a sick child, Margie thinks he's lying and decides to go to the party anyway. What happens next is one of the finest (extended) scenes that you will have the pleasure (and joyful discomfort) experiencing: Margie defiantly arriving in Chestnut Hill anyway. GOOD PEOPLE shows off some of the best dialogue from a playwright who knows these people and knows them well.

79. VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE by Christopher Durang [2012]

There are enough Anton Chekhov allusions in Christopher Durang's VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE to fill a cherry orchard. The plot isn't elaborate. Set in Bucks County, PA, brother Vanya and adopted sister Sonia are dour fifty-somethings that live in the home of their sister, the actress Masha. Their world is turned upside down when Masha visits with her latest beau, a vain twenty-something actor named Spike. With idiosyncratic characters, hilarious actions and memorable lines, one thing is certain: We have entered DurangLand.

80. HARVEY by Mary Chase [1944]

Elwood P. Dowd, the protagonist in HARVEY, is my hero. So full of life, gregarious almost to a fault, courteous, caring, bizarre beyond belief, and oh so much fun. His joie de vivre is contagious; he's a nonconformist extraordinaire that lights up the room the moment he enters. In some ways he is the personification of the Shakespeare quote, "To thine own self be true." And when your worst attribute is that you think you hobnob with a six foot, three and a half inch rabbit named Harvey, then really, what's the problem? Elwood's sister doesn't know what to do with him, and her embarrassment of his offbeat friendship with the never-seen man-sized rabbit causes her to try to commit him. And thus is the basic plot of one of the most beloved shows of the last century, a show that has lost none of its pleasures and none of its meanings. Sadly, we have all met people who were full of life and energy in their youth, and then something happens, and they become like Pod People from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That's why Elwood is my hero. He doesn't succumb or conform to the ordinary. He is who he is, without apologies.

81. PROOF by David Auburn [2000]

In PROOF, Catherine has been putting her own math career on hold in order to care for her brilliant, but mentally ill father, Robert, for some time. Upon his death, his ex-graduate student (and Catherine's future lover) is going through papers in his office and discovers a key proof about shifting paradigm-numbers. The question arises: Did Robert write the proof, perhaps his one clear thought in those years drowning in mental illness, or was it actually helmed by his daughter? Can Catherine offer proof (hence the show's title) that she is indeed its author? And is she a mathematical genius like her father, and is it inevitable that she will also inherit his mental illness? It's a potent, powerful script, taut yet moving.

82. M. BUTTERFLY by David Henry Hwang [1988]

"We who are not handsome," the protagonist of M. BUTTERFLY says, "believe, like Pinkerton, that we deserve a Butterfly." Enthralling play based on the true story of a French diplomat's relationship with opera singer Shi Pei PU, an Asian man who was also a spy. And the diplomat refuses to accept that his ideal woman is actually a man, but is it that he knows that he is gay and cannot handle such truth? The play's final moments-a re-creation of Madame Butterfly's tragic ending--is blistering.

83. WAITING FOR LEFTY by Clifford Odets [1935]

A truly historic and important play, if not one you see performed often. Involving several Socialist-leaning vignettes of a cabbie labor strike on the horizon, this was Odets' introduction to the world, with its debut performance co-directed by Sanford Meisner and becoming the first major success of Lee Strasberg's Group Theatre. Critic Henry Senber, present opening night (and the target of much envy among other critics who couldn't make it), wrote in The Morning Telegraph: "One left the theatre Sunday evening with two convictions. The first was that one had witnessed an event of historical importance in what is academically referred to as the drama of the contemporary American scene. The other was that a dramatist to be reckoned with had been discovered."

84. THE MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT by Stephen Adly Guirgis [2011]

The basic storyline of THE MOTHERFU**KER WITH THE HAT deals with addiction, recovery, trust, betrayal and the struggle for redemption. At the start, Jackie, a recovering addict, comes home to announce to his addict girlfriend, Veronica, that he has a new job, and now with his sobriety, their life together will enter a new, better phase. He wants to celebrate with her in bed, but she wants to shower first. It is while she's in the shower when Jackie finds the mysterious title hat in their apartment...and wants to know whose it is. What follows is an emotional tilt-a-whirl with various twists. But the play poses an important question: What's more difficult to deal with, substance/alcohol addiction or addiction to love? Guirgis' dialogue is spigot fast, poetic and down and dirty at the same time, and TMFWTH is obviously created by one of the most cutting edge and observant playwrights around.

85. YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart [1936]

The wackiest, most nonconformist family that you will joyfully encounter still garners much laughter, despite becoming an overdone high school and community theatre standard.

86. BAD JEWS by Joshua Harmon [2013]

Brothers Jonah and especially Liam are not particularly devout Jews, but the same cannot be said about their "uber-Jewish" cousin, Daphna. After the funeral of their grandfather, a Holocaust survivor they call Poppy, Liam and Daphna are both wanting to inherit their grandfather's "chai" medallion which survived the Holocaust with him. "It's made of gold," according to Daphna, "it's not very big, and Poppy wore it on a chain around his neck his whole life." Daphna thinks she is entitled to it, being the only real practicing Jew among the grandkids, but Liam wants to use it to propose to his shiksa girlfriend, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Delawarean named Melody. But Daphna won't allow it. "Over my dead Jewish corpse is that going on her," she says. "You wanna marry a non-Jew? Knock yourself out. Have a great time. Shiksa heaven. Best wishes. But Poppy's chai is never going around her neck. Never ever never ever ever." Set in a single night in a nice New York City studio apartment, we watch the dramedy of Daphna, Liam, Jonah and Melody unfold in real time. The dialogue, chock full of breathtaking monologues, is brilliantly brutal. It's a comedy all right, barely pausing for breath. But BAD JEWS also offers true, insightful instances of compassion, and one moment at the end that is extraordinarily powerful.

87. A DELICATE BALANCE by Edward Albee [1966]

A devastating work. A married couple in their fifties, Tobias and Agnes, is "invaded" by another couple, Harry and Edna, for no discernible reason "We were sitting home," one of them says. "We were all alone...and then...we got frightened." Of what? Maybe FDR was wrong all along; maybe fear itself is a pretty strong monster to be afraid of. And A DELICATE BALNCE deals with characters who are lost and lonely, afraid and morose, addicted and filled with unresolved issues. It would win the Pulitzer Prize, an award many were thinking Albee had received due to his Pulitzer snubbing of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf years earlier. Maybe so, but A DELICATE BALANCE is supremely powerful in its own, sad right.

88. JITNEY by August Wilson [1982]

In August Wilson's memorable play, a father and son battle, and their Act 1 closing scene is as resonant, as deep, and as moving a sequence as you would likely find. When the lights came up at intermission of a performance I saw of it, the woman sitting next to me looked dazed, shell shocked, like she had been in a battle herself. Personally, I had tears in my eyes. One person asked me if I was a father, and if that happened to be the reason that it was so emotional for me. "No," I answered, "but I am a son." August Wilson's words resonate no matter who we are.

89. TALLY'S FOLLY by Lanford Wilson [1980]

Over the course of 90 minutes, set on July 4, 1944 in a Missouri boathouse, we spend time with Sally Talley and Matt Friedman, who share their family's histories and intimate secrets, and by the end of the ninety minutes, plan to marry. And they pledge to visit the boathouse on this date every year, so that they will never forget this day...the day they fell in love. Far more artistically successful than other two-person shows (like Same Time, Next Year), it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

90. THE PILLOWMAN by Martin McDonagh [2003]

A modern Grimm fairy tale, an unsettling black comic story about a writer in a totalitarian state who's being interrogated about the literally bloody content of his writings and their likenesses to extremely odd and terrifyingly violent local child murders. (The Pillowman of the title is a mythical monster who can travel back in time and tell youngsters of all the sorrow they will encounter later in life, finally giving them the option of committing suicide to spare them future grief.). McDonagh made a name for himself with this one, mainly due to the skewering dialogue, like this nugget spoken by one of the characters: "I'm just tired of everybody round here using their shitty childhoods to justify their own shitty behavior, My dad was a violent alcoholic. Am I a violent alcoholic? Yes I am, but that was my personal choice. I freely admit it." THE PILLOWMAN is cruel and barbarous, but also side-splitting and horrifyingly funny. McDonagh's very best.

91. BLITHE SPIRIT by Noel Coward [1941]

BLITHE SPIRIT remains Noel Coward's most accessible work since its initial run. There's a reason for its appeal; it has something for everyone--ghosts, séances, haughty characters, much hilarity, and Coward's saucy dialogue and unmistakable five-star wit. Although not in the same galaxy as The Vortex or Private Lives, it's a mainstream romp that goes down as nice as a three-olive martini.

92. A DOLL'S HOUSE, PT. 2 by Lucas Hnath [2017]

At the end of Henrick Ibsen's historic A Doll's House, Nora slams the door shut on her family and, thus, opened the floodgates to realism. The action of A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2 takes place fifteen years later, where Nora knocks on the very same iconic door that she slammed over a decade earlier. Reverential, parky and sharp, with a shaker's worth of saltiness and a modern sensibility, the experimental sequel to Ibsen's game-changer isn't really a game-changer itself, but it is one hell of a fun show.

93. MASTER CLASS by Terrence McNally [1995]

Opera diva Maria Callas is the central figure in this clever, saucily funny work. It would prove to be Terrence McNally's most popular play; oh, how we miss him!

94. BETWEEN RIVERSIDE & CRAZY by Stephen Adly Guirgis [2014]

Walter "Pops" Washington, a retired NYC officer, lives in a rent-controlled apartment that has been going to seed ever since his wife died. Staying with him are a motley set of misfits, including his recently jailed son. Walter has never been the same since he was shot by a white officer eight years earlier under very fishy and racially-charged circumstances, and he has spent years muddied in a discrimination suit against the police department. He was an okay cop at one time, but now he's an old man drifting without reason, drinking heavily first thing in the morning, impotent, his life without direction or purpose since the death of his wife (and maybe even before then). The Pulitzer Prize-winning BETWEEN RIVERSIDE & CRAZY is a breathtaking work. Literally. I actually had to catch my breath twice during it.

95. THE WOLVES by Sarah DeLappe [2016]

If it weren't for the New Museum and an exhibit on art of the Arab World, then maybe Sarah DeLappe would never have written THE WOLVES. She watched as the urbanite New Yorkers were peppering their art discussions with what was going on in their own lives. On the subway home, she started writing her play, about a girl's soccer team, and their first conversation which covers the Khmer Rouge, menstrual cycles, soccer, a hungover coach and abortion. In a genius move, THE WOLVES starts with a group of adolescent girls, all wearing the same soccer team jerseys and only known by their numbers. But as the show goes on, we start seeing their true selves, the individuals, their quirks, passions, obsessions, all with overlapping Altmanesque dialogue, an auspicious start to the career of this up-and-coming powerhouse playwright.

96. BALM IN GILEAD by Lanford Wilson [1965]

"Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my people?" (Jeremiah 8:22). The lost souls who inhabit Frank's Café in BALM IN GILEAD include your usual assortment of junkies, drag queens, prostitutes, hustlers and hitmen. It's like a Warhol movie on downers. There's a moment near the end when the actors do the same movements back and forth, forth and back, over and over again, and we get a sense through this repetition that this is their life, everyday being like the last, yesterday's the same and tomorrow's no different. It's like Requiem for a Dream meets Diner.

97. THE MOUSETRAP by Agatha Christie [1952]

One of the strongest genres for the stage is the murder mystery, and although there are plenty to choose from for this list, this Agatha Christie whodunnit gets the nod--a beautifully-crafted puzzle that became the longest running show in the history of the West End, lasting for nearly 59 years.

98. ANNA IN THE TROPICS by Nilo Cruz [2002]

The Anna is Anna Karenina, Tolstoy's novel that is read aloud to the cigar workers in Ybor City (also known as Tampa's Cigar City). A surprise Pulitzer Prize winner (beating out The Goat, Who Is Sylvia and Take Me Out), Cuban-born Cruz's work is, in the words of The New York Times, "enticing and exotic."

99. THE ROYALE by Marco Ramirez [2015]

More than just its take on race and sports, THE ROYALE is one powerful piece of theatre. Jay "The Sport" Johnson, inspired by boxer Jack Johnson, is set to fight white favorite James J. Jeffries in 1910 to become the first black heavyweight champ. And the United States of America obviously isn't ready for this kind of change. "This is the fight of the decade," Jay's promoter, Max, says. "There's no precedent. Nothing close. This country's been waiting for this fight - whether they like it or not..." But this isn't a mere re-creation of Johnson's life and loves, a la The Great White Hope. This is a play that showcases the reason that there is nothing quite like live theater. It's a total experience. Sure, movies can capture a fight's electricity (anyone who's seen the brilliantly choreographed fight sequences in Rocky can tell you that), but the theatre goes beyond those in excitement, especially with Ramiriz's THE ROYALE.

100. OTHER DESERT CITIES by Jon Robin Baitz [2011]

Set in 2004 in Palm Springs, California, Baitz's insightful play centers around the quarrelsome Wyeth family, together for the Christmas holidays. The parents are old school Republicans while their children and the children's aunt are leftwing in their outlook. The daughter, Brooke, has written an explosive memoir of her family and especially her dead brother--a radical during the Vietnam war who ultimately took his own life. Brooke's book is like an explosive charge--ready to blow up and fracture the Wyeth family forever if it is published.

101. SLAVE PLAY by Jeremy O. Harris [2019]

Ethnicity, sex, authority, distress, and interracial love...everything together to make a controversial-and-then-some play. Scalding and horrific, SLAVE PLAY can boast of being possibly the most polarizing play of the 21st Century and beyond, certainly giving a show like The Dutchman its run for the money. Playwright Harris purposely makes the viewer uncomfortable (otherwise his work here would be as palatable as a Michael Parker farce). Some find it illuminating, a necessary sock in America's soft gut, while others think it's just an exercise forcing the provocative. It became such a divergent sensation that a petition ("Shutdown SLAVE PLAY") circulated, calling for the "exploitation" to end. But didn't these petitioners realize that the best theatre must make us see ourselves, no matter how horrendous and ugly the sight? That it must take a look in the mirror, no matter how cracked or broken the reflection may be? We'll see where SLAVE PLAY fits in with the other plays on this illustrious list, but it is here, now, holding tight at #101 and waiting to see how history will ultimately judge it.


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From This Author Peter Nason