The Top 25 Plays of the 21st Century...So Far

The Top 25 Plays of the 21st Century...So Far

A couple of weeks ago, we released our list of the 50 Best Musicals of the 21st Century thus far. And while musical theatre certainly seems to dominate Broadway box offices, we've seen some incredible plays that will certainly go down as some of the best works of our time. 

These 25 plays serve as the very best examples of what drama should be. Their creativity, depth and characters have set a new standard for playwrights.  

25. 4000 Miles – Amy Herzog

Matt Caplan and Jenny O'Hara in South Coast Repertory's 2013 production of 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog. Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.

Matt Caplan and Jenny O'Hara in South Coast Repertory's 2013 production of 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog. Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.

The way the generational and temperamental opposites deal with each other over the course of several unplanned weeks makes for slyly powerful theater. Herzog doesn't try to impart the secret of life, doesn't make any grand, spotlighted statements. You never feel the writer straining for profound effect, but she achieves it anyway. - Tim Smith / Baltimore Sun

24. Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman

Photo: Teresa Wood

Photo: Teresa Wood

Metamorphoses is perfect theatrical storytelling that never stumbles or strikes a false note. Zimmerman's approach is painterly and literary but also acrobatically physical, and the ten-member cast bring it to life, combining athletic movement with beautifully spoken narration. - Albert Williams / Chicago Reader

23. Venus in Fur by David Ives

Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy in Venus in Fur (© Joan Marcus)

Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy in Venus in Fur (© Joan Marcus)

To most minds. Ives also has written a very beguiling 100-minute drama that manages to titillate and entertain while conveying enough intellectual content that a subscriber in the third row does not feel like this has been a trip to the Kitty Kat Lounge in South Bend, Ind. (the subject of another, different play I saw this past weekend). This is a superb piece of commercial writing. - Chris Jones / Chicago Tribune

22. In a Dark Dark House by Neil LaBute

Ron Livingston and Frederick Weller in In a Dark, Dark House (© Joan Marcus

Ron Livingston and Frederick Weller in In a Dark, Dark House (© Joan Marcus

At its most basic, the plot of “House” becomes another LaButean exploration of how people use and betray one another. But there are subtler forces at work here, including Mr. LaBute’s most sophisticated use of language thus far. - Ben Brantley / New York Times

21. The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl

Matilde (Ursula Cataan, center) and Lane (Patricia Hodges, right) discuss the day's events in the Cleveland Play House production of The Clean House.

Matilde (Ursula Cataan, center) and Lane (Patricia Hodges, right) discuss the day's events in the Cleveland Play House production of The Clean House.

The key to its success is the fullness with which Ms. Ruhl’s sees her characters, who all possess complicated interior lives that begin to impinge upon one another in mysterious ways as their fates become intertwined. “Who are they?” a startled Matilde asks, entering Lane’s pristine living room unexpectedly and seeing an unknown couple embracing. “My husband and the woman he loves,” Lane responds coolly. “Don’t worry. It’s only my imagination.” - Charles Isherwood / New York Times

20. God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza

Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels (with a bottle of rum) and James Gandolfini in "God of Carnage" on Broadway in 2009.

Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels (with a bottle of rum) and James Gandolfini in "God of Carnage" on Broadway in 2009.

Even if Reza's moral is mechanically delivered, there's something theatrically bracing about the sight of grown-ups throwing off their civilized constraints. The play's insights hardly constitute breaking news, but what great fun it is watching these characters tear into one another's self-regard. - Charles McNulty / Los Angeles Times

19. War Horse by Nick Stafford

American actor Seth Numrich as Albert, with his horse Joey, in the New York production of 'War Horse' Photo: Credit photo: ©Paul Kolnik

American actor Seth Numrich as Albert, with his horse Joey, in the New York production of 'War Horse' Photo: Credit photo: ©Paul Kolnik

This is much more than a puppet show, however. Nick Stafford's powerful adaptation of Morpurgo's novel, which wisely ditches Joey's narrative and tells the story through dialogue among the human characters, brilliantly captures not only the mysterious and intense relationship that can exist between humans and animals, but also the dreadful waste and terror of the Great War. - Charles Spencer / The Daily Telegraph

18. Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz

Marela (Amanda Morish) gets to know lector Juan Julian (Martin J. Rodriguez) in the Teatro Nagual production of "Anna in the Tropics.

Marela (Amanda Morish) gets to know lector Juan Julian (Martin J. Rodriguez) in the Teatro Nagual production of "Anna in the Tropics.

Cruz's story is sound, highlighting the transformative powers of literature on the human mind and soul and the unstoppable nature of progress in both people and business. - Matthew Murray / Talkin' Broadway

17. Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar

Photo: Joan Marcus

Photo: Joan Marcus

While Disgraced has its schematic aspects, the writing effectively observes the insidious tensions that ripple through both personal and professional relationships in post-9/11 America. The play is particularly incisive in its commentary on the volatility of certain words and talking points, rendering them unsafe in any conversation. Akhtar also provides a thoughtful examination of how denial and self-loathing can distort an individual’s sense of cultural identity. - David Rooney / The Hollywood Reporter

16. I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright

Jefferson Mays in I AM MY OWN WIFE. Photo - Joan Marcus

Jefferson Mays in I AM MY OWN WIFE. Photo - Joan Marcus

Within Charlotte lies hope, anguish, and an old-world allure that draws you into her complex history. Haunted by the pain of her past and adjusting to the ever-changing events of her present she still exudes a girlish quality that makes you feel at ease with her presences and pity for the misfortunes of her life. She is adored, rejected and then cast away by the public who only sees the worth in the spectacle of her life rather the woman that she has embraced. After subsequent falling from grace she has a turning point where she examines her life after an attack at her museum. This turning point is the most riveting aspects of the play. Watching Charlotte’s self discovery (again) is compelling as she realizes she is strong enough to walk away from the place that has held so much meaning. - Sakiera Malone / MD Theatre Guide

15. Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire

Cynthia Nixon and John Slattery

Cynthia Nixon and John Slattery

A perceptive and poignant study in the day-to-day aches of bereavement: problems with personal intimacy, the uneasy friends who don’t call, the emptiness in a house packed with reminders. … Heartbreaking in its theme and details, ‘Rabbit Hole’ is a beautifully crafted work of great sensitivity. — Michael Sommers / Star-Ledger

14. Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg

Daniel Sunjata (Left) and the cast of Take Me Out (Photo © Joan Marcus)

Daniel Sunjata (Left) and the cast of Take Me Out (Photo © Joan Marcus)

Take Me Out eventually builds to a dramatic and tragic denouement. It asks questions about the whole of American society and not just the world of baseball. This is baseball as a metaphor for life. - Philip Fisher / British Theatre Guide

13. Red by John Logan

Eddie Redmayne, left, as an artist's assistant, and Alfred Molina as Mark Rothko in “Red.” Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Eddie Redmayne, left, as an artist's assistant, and Alfred Molina as Mark Rothko in “Red.” Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Best of all is a sequence when Rothko and his helpmate prime a blank canvas by creating a base, plum-coloured layer. As the two men enthusiastically splash on the paint, to the sound of a Gluck aria on the studio phonograph, we get to share the physical exhilaration of initiating a piece of art. That moment compensates for Logan's occasional overemphasis on Rothko's vision of art as a suffering-laden vocation, and for the hero's apparent indifference to the world beyond the studio: he shows no interest in Ken as a person, and even regards the revelation that his parents were murdered as a creative stimulus. But what emerges is something rare in modern drama: a totally convincing portrait of the artist as a working visionary. - MIchael Billington / The Guardian

12. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

For knee-slappers you have funny-sexy, funny-psychological, funny-psychic, funny-Chekhovian boredom and funny-erudite. There is even a play within a play. All this and more is crowned at the end in a brilliant ranting monologue by Vanya, delivered with comedic punch and passion by Jacobs, on the demise of wholesome values in the early 21st century.

Durang drops in a profundity now and then, such as: “True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body: nourishment and refreshment.” -  Barbara Rose Shuler / Monterey Herald

11. The Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard

Brian F. O’Byrne, seated, as Alexander Herzen, in a scene from “Salvage,” the third part of Tom Stoppard’s trilogy, “The Coast of Utopia.” Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Brian F. O’Byrne, seated, as Alexander Herzen, in a scene from “Salvage,” the third part of Tom Stoppard’s trilogy, “The Coast of Utopia.” Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Utopia is like a stage version of a nineteenth-century novel, leisurely, historically sweeping, idealistic, overloaded with characters who talk by the paragraph rather than in grunts and expletives. Like a traditional Russian novel, Utopia drags in places, but its cumulative effect is wonderful. - Richard Hornby / The Hudson Review 

10. Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks

Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright in Topdog/Underdog (Photo: Michal Daniel)

Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright in Topdog/Underdog (Photo: Michal Daniel)

It’s rich in both metaphor and foreshadowing as the playwright shows the brothers grappling with their distrust of each other, their desire for supremacy, their poverty, their darker natures and the pain of their past - Kelly Clawson / Ohio.com

9. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Simon Stephens

Photo: Joan Marcus

Photo: Joan Marcus

There are plays that entertain, plays that illuminate, and plays that bring us to an exalted new place. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time does all three. This is exhilarating, dynamic theatre which triumphantly expands the boundaries of theatricality. - Steven Suskin / Huffington Post

8. The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh

The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh with David Tennant,Jim Broadbent opens at the Cottesloe Theatre on 13/11/03 CREDIT Geraint Lewis

The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh with David Tennant,Jim Broadbent opens at the Cottesloe Theatre on 13/11/03 CREDIT Geraint Lewis

When a story is good, it's irresistible: How easy is it even for adults to turn up their noses at a children's tale if it's charmingly written and engagingly presented? And don't children love to be scared? And don't many people count on just about anything new and different to give them the satisfaction that coarsely manufactured, run-of-the-mill entertainment so seldom provides? The Pillowman, addresses not only the terrifying and redemptive power of stories and the hold they can exert on us, but spins a spellbinding yarn of its own along the way. - Matthew Murray / Talkin' Broadway

7. The History Boys by Alan Bennett

The History Boys at the Lyttelton Theatre, 2004 Photo: Alastair Muir

The History Boys at the Lyttelton Theatre, 2004 Photo: Alastair Muir

The History Boys are eight pupils, with varying accents, at a minor public school in the North. They form an Oxbridge Scholarship class of the 1980s and the play follows their education as well as their sexual and mental awakenings as they are groomed by two very different teachers.

This is more than a simple coming of age drama. It is also an allegory on Thatcherite values, as culture and knowledge for its own sake give way to the spin and results-driven society that we see today. - Philip Fisher / British Theatre Guide

6. Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris

From left: Damon Gupton, Annie Parisse, Crystal A. Dickinson and Jeremy Shamos.  Photo: Nathan Johnson

From left: Damon Gupton, Annie Parisse, Crystal A. Dickinson and Jeremy Shamos.  Photo: Nathan Johnson

Taking in a half-century of sociodynamic shifts with a mischievous wink, Norris considers how much has changed pre- and post-political correctness. Even more pertinently, he exposes how much our attitudes toward race remain mired in a communication impasse. Well-meaning liberalism may have yielded surface advancements, but the play tartly shows that patronizing insensitivity is alive and well. - David Rooney / The Hollywood Reporter

5. Proof by David Auburn

Mary-Louise Parker and Ben Shenkman in the Manhattan Theater Club's 2000 production of "Proof." 

Mary-Louise Parker and Ben Shenkman in the Manhattan Theater Club's 2000 production of "Proof." 

Nearly every scene is based on a piece of information cunningly withheld until the last moment; and unlike playwrights who take such strategic games in ponderous earnest, Auburn perceives their essential playfulness, as do his characters, who toy with each other much as he toys with them and with us. It's impossible to resent manipulation that's carried on in such a generous spirit; by its uninsistent acceptance of its own shallowness, it opens out into a vision of reality. - Michael Feingold / The Village Voice

4. The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? by Edward Albee

Goodman Theatre's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Staged by Goodman Artistic Director Robert Falls, The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? was part of the 2003/04 season.

Goodman Theatre's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Staged by Goodman Artistic Director Robert Falls, The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? was part of the 2003/04 season.

What is perhaps Edward Albee's most unlikely play, “The Goat Or, Who Is Sylvia?” is certainly one of his very best. What starts out as a sort of lewd joke concerning one man's ill-fated love affair with a barnyard animal unfolds into a tragedy of Greek proportions, complete with a shocking denouement all the more devastating for its sheer improbability. - F. Kathleen Foley / The Los Angeles Times

3. Doubt, A Parable by John Patrick Shanley

Rod Brogan and Lucy Martin in the production of Doubt at Syracuse Stage

Rod Brogan and Lucy Martin in the production of Doubt at Syracuse Stage

A play this thoughtful, this well-crafted, this passionate is hard to ignore and even harder to resist. Yes, it addresses issues of great meaning to many: faith, truthfulness, determination to do what's right at any cost. But those are incidental concerns. The play's specific story - about a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, where a priest might be carrying on an inappropriate relationship with the school's lone black student - is also beside the point. The real drama comes from how you, like the characters, deal with a situation that can't be fully understood because it cannot be interpreted in only one way.

But what's the truth? We don't know. We can't know. In the end, it doesn't matter. Dramatically, that ambiguity is key. And that's the beauty of Doubt. - Matthew Murrary / Talkin' Broadway

2. Ruined by Lynn Nottage

Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Nottage's focus is very precise: she deals with a bar-cum-brothel in a small Congolese mining town on the edge of the rainforest. The bar's presiding spirit is Mama Nadi who believes, like Brecht's Mother Courage, that as long as business is good and she avoids taking sides, she can survive the war. But, in the course of the action, head and heart come into conflict.

It's not merely a good play. It jolts our conscience about a forgotten conflict. One emerges both shaken and stirred. - Michael Billington / The Guardian

1. August: Osage County by Tracey Letts

The cast of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County, directed by Sam Gold, at The Old Globe May 7 - June 12, 2011. Photo by Henry DiRocco.

The cast of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County, directed by Sam Gold, at The Old Globe May 7 - June 12, 2011. Photo by Henry DiRocco.

Alcoholism, drug addiction, adultery, sexual misbehavior: The list of pathologies afflicting one or another of the Weston family is seemingly endless, and in some ways wearily familiar. But Mr. Letts’s antic recombination of soapy staples is so pop­artfully orchestrated that you never see the next curveball coming, and the play is so quotably funny I’d have a hard time winnowing favorite lines to a dozen. (Much of the “Greatest Generation” speech would definitely make the list.) - Charles Isherwood / New York Times

CT Theatre Teacher Arrested for Sex Abuse

CT Theatre Teacher Arrested for Sex Abuse

Time Travel Possible in Theater

Time Travel Possible in Theater