8. A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare. This is, in truth, a reread, for when I played one of Titania's squad in a virtual staged reading, but I'm counting it. I pick up on more and more with each reading and each viewing. Still, this is an example I give when I point out that plays are meant to be seen, and any high school teacher teaching a play — especially something like Shakespeare — should not only arrange for a quality version to watch (preferably live), but the viewing should come BEFORE the reading. I actually read this on my own in high school. I've always liked Shakespeare and read several of his works on my own. But I remember with this one, I read it because I had heard how wonderful it was, and how popular it is. When I finished though, I was underwhelmed. Why was this so popular? I thought. Also the whole scene with the play within I play just came off as insipid on the printed page. Years later, I saw the fairly recent movie version with Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Calista Lockheart and Michelle Pfeiffer, among many big names. Oh my gosh, Midsummer went from meh to marvelous. And that mechanicals production towards the end? My favorite scene by far. I laughed until I cried. I've seen it staged at least twice since, and Midsummer is now my favorite Shakespeare play.
For those not familiar with this charming fantasy, there are three stories that come together. One involves two young men and two young women in a love triangle that gets turned into a Gordion knot after a puck accidentally mistakes the identity of his targets. The second story involves a spat between the king and queen of the fairy realm over a changeling boy. The third involves a group of laborers, who have more zeal than skill in theatrics, who are trying to put together a show for the newly married duke. One of the laborers, Bottom, becomes the unwitting punchline in a practical joke on Titania, the fairy queen. Because it's a comedy, everyone ends up happy.
9. Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. A re-read for me, in preparation for a virtual staged reading. I read this in high school; we started by reading the script, then saw a video of a staged version of it. This is one of a few examples I have of where, if a high school teacher is teaching a play, a quality production of the play needs to not only be seen, but seen FIRST before reading it. I really didn't understand why this work was considered so important or so wonderful just by reading it, indeed, I was bored by the reading. The video staging, while not the greatest production, did help. The part I remembered most was Act III, in the graveyard- that really made an impact. It was so different, and so emotional. I've since seen it on stage a couple times as an adult, including a wonderful production at a summer theater ages ago and a very good high school production a couple of years ago, and as an adult I appreciate it a good deal more.
This play, usually done in minimalist style, is essentially a slice of life story set in a small town at the turn of the century. There's no big mystery, no real action, it just focuses on two perfectly normal families, with attention on the two teens — George and Emily — who eventually fall in love. The first act focuses on birth and new beginnings, the second on love and marriage, and the third act on death. The story is told through the Stage Manager, who serves as a guide both for the audience and the people on stage.
10. Stop Kiss, by Diana Son. I read this one for my book club, who are fellow theater enthusiasts. I'm surprised this one hasn't been done around here (as far as I know). The short, one-act play centers on Callie, a traffic reporter and longtime resident of New York City, and Sara, a newcomer to the city who has just accepted a job as a teacher at a Bronx school. Callie and Sara meet through another friend when Sara needs a place to keep her cat. Their friendship grows as time goes on. The play alternates between scenes from the present day, and flashback scenes that bring the audience full circle. Present day is after Sara is brutally attacked when she and Callie are walking through a park; Sara is now in the hospital, and Callie, who also was injured faces hard questions about why the attack happened (there's more than a little victim blaming). The flashback scenes show the growing relationship between Callie and Sara, and what led to the attack. The play is well-written; the pacing is good, with nice character development and a bit of mystery.
11. Baracoon, by Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston, a novelist, traveled to Alabama on to meet Cudjo Lewis (or, as he preferred, Kossola), who, in 1927 was a survivor from the Clotilda, the last known slaver ship known to make the trip in 1859 from the Americas to coastal Africa and back, with an illegal cargo of human chattel. He was 86 at the time of the interviews, and a good portion of the book includes not only his life growing up in Dahomey, and the traditions he grew up with, but his capture and the sad circumstances that made it possible. His accounts touch briefly on his time as a slave, but then concentrate more on his life after the Civil War. He was one of the founders of African Town (now Plataea, Alabama), which was started by those slaves who had been brought over from Africa. Kossola describes especially the prejudice he saw not just from the white residents but the black Americans who never saw Africa. Hurston also includes historical background in her work, to serve as a frame for Kossola's memories, but the book is primarily his account. Hurston remarks on the accuracy of the majority of his recollections. It's a short, insightful read. It takes a little time to get into the rhythm of Kossola's dialogue (Hurston tried to recapture his way of speaking) but once you do that, it's an engaging story.