50 American Playwrights That Everyone Should Know – Part V

Anthony J. Piccione

They are the masterminds behind the plays that theatergoers of all kinds are treated to, whether it’s at the community or professional level. Without them, the actors, directors and designers would not have a brilliant show to bring to life, to begin with. It is true that theatre is a collaborative art form, but of all the roles involved, none of them require more artistic or creative ability than that of the playwright.

It is the playwrights who first create the show that the actors, directors and technicians will ultimately bring to life. Without them, there would be no show to put on in the first place. Yet it seems as if that – despite the enormous role that they play in this process – they do not get nearly as much credit from society for their contributions to the arts and culture as they should, especially here in America.

Personally, not just as a young playwright himself – but as an individual that respects all kinds of artists in theatre and elsewhere – I’d like to see that change, and that is why I have decided to dedicate this five-part series to just 50 playwrights from the United States that everyone – especially those in the theatre community – ought to be familiar with. Each part in this series will contain 10 playwrights – in no particular order – who were among some of the most influential, critically acclaimed or thought-provoking playwrights in the history of American theatre. 

So without further ado, here is the final part of my list of 50 American playwrights that everyone should know…

41.    Annie Baker (b. 1981) 

One of the youngest playwrights to be included on the list, Baker has become increasingly well-known and respected in the theatre community in recent years. Her most recent play entitled The Flick – which premiered in 2013 – won her both the Pulitzer Prize and the Obie Award for Playwriting. Other notable works include Body Awareness, Circle Mirror Transformation and The Aliens.

42.    Christopher Durang (b. 1949)

After rising to prominence in the 1980s, Durang established himself as one of the greatest writers of absurdist comedy in the history of American theatre, having written plays that deal with controversial issues such as religion, homosexuality and child abuse. Most recently, he received the Tony Award for Best Play for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. His many other notable works include Beyond Therapy, Laughing Wild, Baby with the Bathwater and The Actor’s Nightmare.

43.    Katori Hall (b. 1981)

In 2009, Hall initially received critical acclaim for her play The Mountaintop, which dealt with the final hours of Martin Luther King prior to his assassination. This led to her receiving the Olivier Award for Best New Play, and to the play itself opening on Broadway with a production starring Samuel L. Jackson. Along with Annie Baker and others, she is one of the most promising Millennial playwrights alive today.

44.    David Henry Hwang (b. 1957)

Arguably one of the greatest Asian-American writers alive today, Hwang has written several plays, operas, musicals and screenplays over the course of his career. In terms of his work in theatre, his most notable work is his Tony-award winning play M. Butterfly, which was largely inspired by the Italian opera Madama Butterfly. Some other notable works include The Dance and the Railroad, FOB, Yellow Face and Chinglish.

45.    Tony Kushner (b. 1956)

Over the past quarter-century, few playwrights have received as much critical attention as Kushner. While he is also known for his work as a screenwriter – having written the screenplays for Munich and Lincoln – he is best-known for writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning epic Angels in America, which tackled the spread of the AIDS epidemic during the Reagan administration. Other works include A Bright Room Called Day, Slavs! and Caroline, or Change.

46.    Tracy Letts (b. 1965)

While also known for his work in theatre as an actor, Letts is best-known for his work as a playwright and screenwriter, having adapted many of his plays for the screen. His most notable work is the Pulitser Prise-winning play August: Osage County, which was later adapted into a feature film starring Meryl Streep. Other works include Killer Joe, Bug and Superior Dounts.

47.    Lynn Nottage (b. 1964)

One of the boldest and most acclaimed playwrights alive today, Nottage is best-known for writing plays dealing with issues facing women of African heritage. While she initially received attention for her play Intimate Apparel, it is her Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined – which focused on women who survived the Congolese Civil Wars – that is widely considered to be her masterpiece. Other notable works include Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine, Stone and Poof!

48.    Suzan-Lori Parks (b. 1963)

Having started out by acting at the Drama Studio at the age of 11, Parks has gone on to become one of the most awarded playwrights in modern times. Her most critically acclaimed work is Topdog/Underdog, which in 2002, led to her becoming the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. Other notable works include The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, The America Play and Fucking A.

49.    Adam Rapp (b. 1968)

While some might also know Rapp as the brother of actor/singer Anthony Rapp, he has managed to find his own place in the theatre industry as one of the most prolific playwrights alive today. His most notable work is Red Light Winter, which won the Joseph Jefferson Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Other works include Finer Noble Gases and The Metal Children.

50.    Sarah Ruhl (b. 1974)

In the 21st century, few playwrights have received as many awards or critical acclaim as Ruhl. She initially received attention for her romantic comedy The Clean House, which won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Other notable works include Eurydice, Dead Man’s Cell Phone and In the Next Room.

So there you have it. Those are just 50 out of many American playwrights in history that everyone should know. Any playwrights that you didn’t see in this five-part series that you think should be recognized for their work? Any playwrights that you saw that you don’t think belong on this list? Either way, let us know in the comments section!

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).

50 American Playwrights That Everyone Should Know – Part IV

Anthony J. Piccione

They are the masterminds behind the plays that theatergoers of all kinds are treated to, whether it’s at the community or professional level. Without them, the actors, directors and designers would not have a brilliant show to bring to life, to begin with. It is true that theatre is a collaborative art form, but of all the roles involved, none of them require more artistic or creative ability than that of the playwright.

It is the playwrights who first create the show that the actors, directors and technicians will ultimately bring to life. Without them, there would be no show to put on in the first place. Yet it seems as if that – despite the enormous role that they play in this process – they do not get nearly as much credit from society for their contributions to the arts and culture as they should, especially here in America.

 Personally, not just as a young playwright himself – but as an individual that respects all kinds of artists in theatre and elsewhere – I’d like to see that change, and that is why I have decided to dedicate this five-part series to just 50 playwrights from the United States that everyone – especially those in the theatre community – ought to be familiar with. Each part in this series will contain 10 playwrights – in no particular order – who were among some of the most influential, critically acclaimed or thought-provoking playwrights in the history of American theatre. 

So without further ado,  here is the fourth part of my list of 50 American playwrights that everyone should know…

31.    Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) –

Few African-American writers of his generation attracted the same level of respect or controversy as Baraka. Although he is perhaps best known for his work as a poet, he also wrote several works for the stage in the 1960s and 1970s, which – like his poetry – often dealt with themes of race and black empowerment. The two most notable of these plays were Dutchman and A Black Mass.

32.    David Mamet (b. 1947) –

When it comes to writing unique dialogue for the stage, few playwrights can claim to be in the same league as Mamet. His distinct style can be found in numerous scripts for both the stage and screen that he has penned over the years. Perhaps the best example of this would be Glengarry Glen Ross, which won several Tony nominations and the Pulitzer Prize. Other works for the stage include Oleanna, American Buffalo, Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Race.

33.    David Rabe (b. 1940) –

During the 1970s, Rabe’s plays made him one of the most awarded playwrights of that decade. His most well-known and critically acclaimed play is Sticks and Bones, which earned him a Tony Award for Best Play in 197 2. Other notable works include In The Boom Boom Room, Streamers and Hurlyburly.

34.    John Patrick Shanley (b. 1950) –

Having written several scripts for the stage and screen, Shanley is one of the most acclaimed playwrights to achieve success in recent decades. He is perhaps best known for the play Doubt: A Parable, which won him four Tony Awards, a Drama Desk Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and has since been adapted into an opera. Other notable works include Savage in Limbo, Italian American Reconciliation, Psychopathia Sexualis and Outside Mullingar.

35.    Sam Shepard (b. 1943) –

As someone who also writes fiction and essays – and also can act – Shepard is perhaps one of the more multi talented playwrights to be featured on this list. For his work in theatre, he is best known for the play Buried Child, which won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1979. Other notable plays include True West, Fool for Love and Curse of the Starving Class.

36.    Anna Deavere Smith (b. 1950) –

Although she is also known for acting in TV shows such as The West Wing and Nurse Jackie, Smith has previously received an enormous amount of critical acclaim over the past quarter-century for her work as a playwright. Perhaps her most notable work is her solo show Fires in the Mirror, which won her a Drama Desk Award and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Other notable works as a playwright include Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 and Let Me Down Easy.

37.    Luis Valdez (b. 1940) –

Widely considered to have pioneered Chicano theatre, Valdez is perhaps one of the most significant Mexican-American playwrights in history. His primary achievement as a playwright was Zoot Suit. While this play that he penned and produced in the late-1970s was initially not well-received by everyone – particularly in the NYC theatre scene – his influence and importance as a playwright has come to be recognized more and more in recent years.

38.    Paula Vogel (b. 1951) –

When people say that Yale Drama School’s playwriting program is one of the greatest in the country, it is in large part due to the fact that Vogel is the chair of the department. Of her many works, her most critically acclaimed is How I Learned to Drive, which led to her winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. Other notable works include The Baltimore Waltz and This Long Christmas Ride Home.

39.    Wendy Wasserstein (1950-2006) –

By writing critically acclaimed works that touched on many topics from feminism to pop culture, Wasserstein became one of the most successful female playwrights of her generation. Her most well-known work is The Heidi Chronicles, which won her a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1989. Other notable works include Uncommon Women and Others, The Sisters Rosensweig and Old Money.

40.    August Wilson (1945-2005) –

In terms of both comedy and tragedy, perhaps no playwright in the 20th century – or perhaps any century – has been more effective at portraying the African-American experience of that era than Wilson. He is best-known for writing Fences, which won him a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1987. Other notable plays include The Piano Lesson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.

Stay tuned for the fifth and final part of this list! If you have any suggestions for playwrights that you believe should be on this list, feel free to let us know in the comments section.

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).

50 American Playwrights That Everyone Should Know – Part III

Anthony J. Piccione

They are the masterminds behind the plays that theatergoers of all kinds are treated to, whether it’s at the community or professional level. Without them, the actors, directors and designers would not have a brilliant show to bring to life, to begin with. It is true that theatre is a collaborative art form, but of all the roles involved, none of them require more artistic or creative ability than that of the playwright.

It is the playwrights who first create the show that the actors, directors and technicians will ultimately bring to life. Without them, there would be no show to put on in the first place. Yet it seems as if that – despite the enormous role that they play in this process – they do not get nearly as much credit from society for their contributions to the arts and culture as they should, especially here in America.

Personally, not just as a young playwright himself – but as an individual that respects all kinds of artists in theatre and elsewhere – I’d like to see that change, and that is why I have decided to dedicate this five-part series to just 50 playwrights from the United States that everyone – especially those in the theatre community – ought to be familiar with. Each part in this series will contain 10 playwrights – in no particular order – who were among some of the most influential, critically acclaimed or thought-provoking playwrights in the history of American theatre.

So without further adieu, here is the third part of my list of 50 American playwrights that everyone should know…

21.  Edward Albee (b. 1928

During the post-WW2 era of American theatre, Albee established himself as one of the most influential and critically acclaimed playwrights of his generation. Widely considered to be one of the greatest playwrights associated with absurdism in theatre, he has continued to experiment in playwriting even in the 21st century. His most well-known works include The Zoo Story, The Sandbox and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

22.  Woody Allen (b. 1935)

 For decades, Allen has been known primarily for having one of the most prolific careers in the history of filmmaking. However, he has also written some notable works for the stage, as well. Perhaps the most notable of these plays are Don’t Drink the Water and Play It Again, Sam. Unfortunately, much of his long career has been somewhat overshadowed in later years by a controversial personal life.

23.  James Baldwin (1924-1987)

 One of the most significant social critics of his time, Baldwin was known for writing several essays on various issues related to race, class and sexuality. While he was primarily known for other forms of writing and for his political activism, he also was known for writing two major plays: The Amen Corner and Blues for Mister Charlie, both of which touched on themes similar to those that were explored in his essays.

24.  Truman Capote (1924-1984)

Often associated with the Southern Gothic literary movement, Capote was primarily known as a widely successful author during his lifetime. However, he also wrote a few notable works for the stage and screen, including a stage adaptation of his novella The Grass Harp, as well as the Broadway musical House of Flowers. It’s worth wondering if this brilliant writer might have done more writing for theatre or film later in his life, had he not lost his battle with cancer at the age of 59.

25.  Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)

 Despite her short-lived career – having succumbed to cancer at the age of 34 – few playwrights have had the same impact through writing several plays that Hansberry had with just one play. With her highly successful A Raisin in the Sun, she became the first African-American woman to have a play produced on Broadway in 1959. Since her passing, the play has remained popular in the theatre community, and it has also led to film and musical adaptations.

26.  Joseph Heller (1923-1999)

Few satirical writers in the 20th century had been more notable than Heller. While he is mostly remembered for his comedic novel Catch-22 – the title of which has since come to be a frequently used term in the English language – he also wrote some works for the stage and screen. His works in theatre include a stage adaptation of Catch-22, as well as We Bombed in New Haven and Clevinger’s Trial.

27.  Cormac McCarthy (b. 1933)

Although he also penned works for the stage and the screen, McCarthy is primarily known for being one of the greatest novelists of his generation. He is responsible for writing great books such as The Road, Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men, the latter of which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film. However, he also wrote two plays: The Stonemason and The Sunset Limited, with the latter of which was adapted into an HBO film by Tommy Lee Jones.

28.  Neil Simon (b. 1927)

Notable for becoming the first living playwright to have a New York theater named in his honor, Neil Simon wrote several notable works over the course of a half-century. Earlier works include Come Blow Your Horn, Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple. However, his most critically acclaimed work is his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Lost in Yonkers. Many of these works are notable for their rare mixture of comedy and seriousness that his audiences find easy to relate to.

29.  Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

One of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century, Vidal was a highly prolific writer and commentator whose work dealt with a variety of different political issues. While he primarily wrote novels and essays, he also wrote some notable works for both theatre and film. His works for the stage include Visit to a Small Planet, The Best Man, Weekend and An Evening with Richard Nixon.

30.  Lanford Wilson (1937-2011)

While perhaps not as well-known as Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams, Wilson was one of the most admired and respected writers of American realism in theatre during the 20th century in his lifetime. Of his many works – which largely touched on certain social and romantic themes – his most critically acclaimed is Talley’s Folly, which won him the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award nomination. (He would go on to actually win a Tony for future works.) Other notable works that he penned include Fifth of July, Angels Fall and Burn This.

Stay tuned for Part IV of this list! If you have any suggestions for playwrights that you believe should be on this list, feel free to let us know in the comments sections.

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).

50 American Playwrights That Everyone Should Know – Part I

Anthony J. Piccione

They are the masterminds behind the plays that theatergoers of all kinds are treated to, whether it’s at the community or professional level. Without them, the actors, directors and designers would not have a brilliant show to bring to life, to begin with. It is true that theatre is a collaborative art form, but of all the roles involved, none of them require more artistic or creative ability than that of the playwright.

It is the playwrights who first create the show that the actors, directors and technicians will ultimately bring to life. Without them, there would be no show to put on in the first place. Yet it seems as if that – despite the enormous role that they play in this process – they do not get nearly as much credit from society for their contributions to the arts and culture as they should, especially here in America.

Personally, not just as a young playwright himself – but as an individual that respects all kinds of artists in theatre and elsewhere – I’d like to see that change, and that is why I have decided to dedicate this five-part series to just 50 playwrights from the United States that everyone – especially those in the theatre community – ought to be familiar with. Each part in this series will contain 10 playwrights – in no particular order – who were among some of the most influential, critically acclaimed and thought-provoking playwrights in the history of American theatre. 

So without further adieu, here are the first 10 out of 50 American playwrights that everyone should know:

1.      David Belasco (1853-1931) 

One of the earliest and most influential figures in the history of American theatre, Belasco was a highly successful producer – known for penning much of his own work – who either wrote, directed or produced over 100 Broadway shows in his lifetime. While he is perhaps best known for adapting Madame Butterfly for the stage, he is also known for plays such as Hearts of Oak, The Heart of Maryland and The Girl of the Golden West.

2.      Clyde Fitch (1865-1909) 

Having penned 36 original plays over the course of his career, Fitch was considered to be the most successful playwright during the early 20th century. Some of his most notable works – which ranged from melodramas to farces – included plays such as Nathan Hale, The Girl with the Green Eyes and The Woman in the Case. Given how prolific he was, it’s hard not to wonder how much more he could have contributed to American theatre, had it not been for his relatively early death at the age of 44.

3.      Robert Frost (1874-1963) 

Robert Frost

Robert Frost

Frost was better known for his poetry than for his plays. In his life, he was considered to be one of the most accomplished poets in America. However, given his general contributions to the arts, it seems fitting for him to be on a list that recognizes with work as a playwright. While he wrote quite a few short plays, his most notable work is the comedic play A Masque of Reason.

4.      George S. Kaufman (1889-1961)

 Few comedic writers of his generation had been more accomplished than Kaufman. A frequent collaborator of the Marx Brothers, he wrote several comedic and satirical plays, and was also known for writing several musicals. Of the many plays and musicals that he penned, his two most well-known works are the Pulitzer Prize-winning play You Can’t Take It With You and the Tony Award-winning musical Guys and Dolls.

5.      Steele MacKaye (1842-1894

While he was primarily known as one of the most accomplished inventors in the history of American theatre, MacKaye was also known for writing, directing, producing and acting in many of his own shows. His many productions that he was heavily involved in helped to establish MacKaye as one of the most significant figures in 19th century American theatre. Notable works that he penned include Monaldi, Marriage, Won at Last and Hazel Kirke.

6.      Langdon Elwyn Mitchell (1862-1935

Few American playwrights in the early 20th century were more popular than Mitchell. This was largely because he was especially known for writing roles in his plays that were made for some of the most talented actors of that era. Among his most notable works were In the Season, Becky Sharp, The New York Idea and The New Marriage.

7.      Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953)

Widely considered to have pioneered the use of realism in American drama, O’Neill remains one of the most renowned and influential playwrights in the history of American theatre. While he also wrote some comedies, he is primarily known for his dramas, which frequently incorporated themes of despair and tragedy. While his most critically acclaimed work is Long Day’s Journey Into Night, he is also known for dozens of other plays, including Beyond the Horizon, Anna Christie, The Emperor Jones and Strange Interlude.

8.      Noble Sissle (1889-1975) 

One of the great jazz composers of his generation, Sissle is also known for his work in theatre and film. Due to his notability as one of the few memorable African-American theatrical composers of that era, he was a fairly significant figure in the history of musical theatre. Some notable works in theatre include Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies.

9.      Sophie Treadwell (1885-1970

In the early 20th century, few playwrights did more to highlight women’s issues of that time period than Treadwell. Having penned dozens of very different plays with very different styles, they also incorporated several other issues that were relevant to the times, as well as some aspects of her Mexican heritage. Her greatest achievement in theatre is arguably the play Machinal, which is considered to be one of the best examples in history of American expressionism in theatre.

10.  Thornton Wilder (1897-1975

Westminster College of the Arts, Sophomore Maeve Lysnkey and senior Conor Fallon play Rebecca and George Gibbs. 

Westminster College of the Arts, Sophomore Maeve Lysnkey and senior Conor Fallon play Rebecca and George Gibbs. 

Having won the Pulitzer Prize three times in his career, Wilder was both one of the most accomplished playwrights and novelists of his generation, whose work often sought to explore the human condition in America. In theatre, he is best known for writing the plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth. Other works include The Long Christmas Dinner, The Merchant of Yonkers, The Alcestiad: Or, a Life in the Sun and Plays for Bleecker Street.

Stay tuned for Part II of this list! If you have any suggestions for playwrights that you believe should be on this list, feel free to let us know in the comments sections. 

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).

Social Media Image: Insight Theatre Company