Last week The New York Times published a special section of The 25 Best American Plays since Angels in America premiered 25 years ago. The purpose of this sort of list is of course to allow Your Humble Blogger to assert superiority to the listmakers and to disparage their ignorance and lack of taste. Shockingly, however, the list is remarkably good. I don’t love all the plays, myself, but a list of 25 plays that Your Humble Blogger personally likes would be of somewhat limited interest. And I’m not sure how many would be on that list that aren’t on the NYT list, honestly.
Here’s a breakdown of my feelings about the plays from their list:
Plays I personally love:
- Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play
- How I Learned to Drive
- Seven Guitars
- Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992
- Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train
- The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Plays I don’t love, but really like or admire:
- The Designated Mourner
- Three Tall Women
- The Laramie Project
- Yellow Face
- The Vagina Monologues
Plays I don’t actually like, but that I understand should be on a list of this kind:
- Clybourne Park
- August: Osage County
- The Flick
- The Humans
- This Is Our Youth
Plays I haven’t read or seen and don’t really know enough about to judge, but when I saw them on the list I thought ‘yeah, I’ve been meaning to read them or see them, those are supposed to be excellent’:
- An Octoroon
- The Wolves
- The Realistic Joneses
- The Apple Family Plays
Plays that are events, so reading the script isn’t the point at all and there won’t be any productions by other performers, either, so I just flat-out missed them, but they sounded really interesting:
- Underground Railroad Game
They restricted the list to no more than one play by a playwright, which I totally understand but makes this substantially less of a correct list of the 25 best plays. I personally prefer Indecent to How I Learned to Drive, but I’d probably put both on my own list. I think perhaps I would put Intimate Apparel on over Ruined, although, you know, that’s because there’s a part for me in it. Would I pick The Last Days of Judas Iscariot over Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train? Or would I pick The Motherfucker with the Hat just to make the Times deal with the title?
They put Water by the Spoonful on the list of didn’t-quite-make-the-list, and I would have bumped it up into the list proper, probably over The Designated Mourner. I think Gatz should probably have made that not-quite list, in the sense that I think it’s worth bringing up and talking about whether it should make the list or not. I think that Wit is another one that you have to justify leaving out of the discussion, although the discussion should end without including it. Other plays that I think are worth mentioning include Anna in the Tropics, Red, A Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo and maybe Take Me Out, but I don’t think I would eventually put any of them in that top 25.
Interesting to me that Doubt didn’t make the list. I don’t like the play, myself, and I am happy to think that it has sunk out of the conversation, but I think that five years ago it would have been fairly prominent in the making of a twenty-year list. I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if some of these drop off the list in another ten years. Or that we will look back at wonder how they could have missed—what? I Am My Own Wife? Lackawanna Blues? The Breach? Underneath the Lintel? Hir? Will we decide at some point that Venus is a better or more powerful play than Topdog/Underdog or that Eurydice is not on a par with The Clean House? Will we look back and wonder how there could only be two examples of the verbatim plays, the most important trend of the quarter-century, or wonder anyone could put two different examples of that dead-end verbatim thing. Who knows?
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,