Tired of books? Start reading plays

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If there’s a silver lining to being in quarantine, it might be the fact that people are giving new attention to an old pastime — reading. But depending on how much time you have to read each day and how long the book is, sometimes books may end up sitting unfinished on your desk or bedside table for ages. One of the biggest factors preventing people from picking up a book is the fear that they won’t finish it. 

Stage plays, however, are often a more manageable length. If your brain immediately goes to “Hamlet” when you think “play,” then you probably aren’t familiar with more modern dramas. They are very entertaining to read and more accessible than Shakespeare’s plays. Plays are unique in that they’re comprised mainly of dialogue, so you can — in fact, you should — have fun reading them out loud to hear how the lines sound when spoken. They’re also great for writers who want to explore dialogue or for anyone who likes character-driven stories.

If you’re looking for something to read, here are some modern plays you should consider.

For fans of drama: “Topdog/Underdog” by Suzan-Lori Parks

This play won Suzan Lori Parks the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for drama. It centers around the relationship between two brothers sharing an apartment, one named Lincoln and the other named Booth. As they navigate their daily lives, dealing with poverty and racism, the brothers reflect on their past and challenge each other. Blood begins to boil in this expertly crafted play.

For fans of family comedy: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang

Comedy isn’t what I would expect from a play inspired by the works of Anton Chekhov, but Christopher Durang manages to create a laugh-out-loud hilarious show that reflects on the themes of the classics. When three middle-aged siblings gather in their family home with a couple of guests and a psychic housekeeper, old tensions arise and hilarity ensues.

For fans of horror: “The Pillowman” by Martin McDonagh

In this dark thriller by Martin McDonagh, a man who writes gruesome children’s stories is brought in for questioning by the police regarding a series of real-life child murders that resemble his stories. The narrative slowly builds tension as the writer is interrogated and raises questions about free speech. Set in an interrogation room and holding cell, “The Pillowman” is a wonderfully twisted tale that will have you turning the pages to find out what happens.

For fans of angsty teen dramedy: “Dog Sees God” by Bert Royal

This play centers around the “Peanuts” characters in high school. Charlie Brown is gay and Lucy is in a psychiatric hospital. Need I say more?

For fans of magical realism: “You for Me for You” by Mia Chung

This beautifully lyrical play deals with two sisters’ planned escape from North Korea. Along their journey, they become separated. One sister makes it to the United States, a bewildering land seen through the eyes of an immigrant, while the other becomes trapped in a struggle with her own past. “You for Me for You” is a unique tale of journeys that echoes those of “The Odyssey.”

For fans of the bizarre: “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” by Sarah Ruhl

Sarah Ruhl’s plays are always refreshingly quirky, but “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is on another level. The play begins with a woman hearing a man’s phone ringing in a restaurant, realizing the man is dead and taking the call. From there on, this play is a madcap romp with organ trafficking and angry monologues about soup, all the while raising questions about our relationships with technology. 

For fans of documentaries: “The Laramie Project” by Tectonic Theater Project

After the murder of Matthew Shepard, the members of the Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie, Wyoming to interview residents and record the aftermath of the hate crime. The play’s text is composed entirely from interviews, journal entries and court transcriptions. Powerfully honest and utterly human, “The Laramie Project” is an example of how drama can be an important medium for sharing true stories. 

There you have it! A complete list of stage plays from a plethora of categories that anyone will enjoy. So, pick your favorite and get to reading!

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