5 Plays You MUST Read Before You Die

I know some of you are too busy to read a whole novel, so I wanted to dedicate this post to recommending plays. Plays are great because they are shorter, they often get right to the point a lot quicker (for those of you who are not fans of a lot of exposition), and they are whole lot cheaper to buy (you can get one for less than 5 bucks at Borders.)

I majored in Drama in college, which means I read a lot of plays, and I know that writers can learn a lot of valuable lessons from them. Playwrights are masters of subtlety, experts at driving action forward in a short amount of time, and are great at developing the story and the characters very quickly without being too unrealistic. They are also great teachers when it comes to word efficiency. Not to mention that plays are great studies in monologue, dialogue and symbolism.

Therefore, without further ado, here are my 5 PLAYS YOU MUST READ BEFORE YOU DIE (I’ve excluded Shakespeare’s plays because I assume that they are a given, and also A Raisin in The Sun, which I mentioned in my post “The 5 Books You MUST Read Before You Die.“) :

The Zoo Story by Edward Albee

This play was written in 1958 and yet Mr. Albee was more prophetic about the future than he, or anyone else, could have ever imagined when he wrote it. It’s very simple. Two men at a New York City park bench, trying to find connection in an increasingly isolated world (sound familiar?). They sit next to each other and yet they couldn’t be more far apart in familiarity and in motivation. The whole play unfolds in real-time and ends in a way no one expects. At first, I have to admit, I didn’t like this play. But it has stuck with me over the years, especially that final image, which is utterly shocking at the very least. I think nothing is more powerful than a writer who can get his point across, and I believe Mr. Albee did just that, although it took me awhile to understand what a true statement he was making. It’s a testament to Mr. Albee’s talent that, as time goes forward, his play only becomes more relevant.

The Seagull by Anton Chekov

There is this huge debate in the theater world whether Chevov’s plays are tragic or comedic. I love to fall in line with those people who believe his plays are both and neither. His plays reflect life perfectly: a scene in The Seagull could be tragic and at the same time be knee-slappingly hilarious. That’s life isn’t it? Comedy and tragedy are not far removed? That’s why you leave this play (and every one of his plays) feeling that you just witnessed something that was both an incredibly haunting AND an incredibly joyful portrayal of life. Character A falls in love with Character B who loves Character C, while Character C loves A, but A doesn’t love them back. Isn’t that reality? His characters are bored to death, sexually repressed, restless, desperate, and yearning for something, somewhere that they cannot describe. They feel like money, power, fame and prestige constantly elude them. Isn’t that everybody? Chekov also writes a monologue like nobody’s business. No wonder this Russian playwright continues to be the most performed playwright in the theater community (after Shakespeare of course).

Accidental Death of An Anarchist by Dario Foe

You are not prepared for this play. No, I don’t mean that in a bad way, I mean it in a good way. This play is so incredibly hilarious at every single moment–but it’s not just about comedy. Comedy in this play is used as weapon to strike at the hypocrisy of government, military, religion, the police, justice, everything. It’s outlandish, bold, irreverent, inspired, completely unexpected and laugh-out-loud funny at every turn. What’s surprising is that the story revolves around only one character who constantly succeeds in duping officials and revealing their incompetence when it comes to investigating the “accidental” death of an anarchist. Dario Foe won The Nobel Prize for his work, and I can’t think of another writer of farce that ever won that kind of prize. I guess comedy can change the world.

Heroes & Saints by Cherrie Moraga

Talk about bold playwrights. No modern playwright is as bold and as brave as Moraga. Why is she brave? Because she shows us a world that is as complex as it really is, where varying degrees of injustice, and suffering can co-exist in the same town and within the same family. Where the issues of a people intersect on so many levels that one has trouble keeping track of it all, and yet somehow Moraga keeps it all together and makes us realize that in some ways, all these varying issues are part of one overall problem: dehumanization. This is the story of a town were the local Mexican immigrant labor is getting sick from the pesticides that are being used on the very crops that they harvest. These pesticides affect the laborers and their children, and the results are tragic. But Moraga does not miss a beat in taking this story (based on true events) and using it as a chance to pull off some hyperbolic symbolism and irony. For instance, the play features a character who (literally) is just a head. This head, a woman’s head, drives herself around the house by pushing a button on a little table on wheels. Utilizing absurdist symbols like these, Moraga drives her point home very clearly, and at the end of the play the audience cannot help but feel driven to action against all the play’s injustices.

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

This is possibly the most perfect play ever written. It’s even been credited with starting the modern feminist movement back when it was first performed in 1879’s Norway. The plot is simple. The main character, a woman, has spent her life being dependent on the men in her life and is suddenly driven to discover her own power and hidden thirst for independence. But the amazing thing is that when the play starts off, you never would have guessed that this is where the main character would end up. It doesn’t matter that in the end you know she is going to commit an unthinkable action for any woman in that time period–no, what is more fascinating is what finally leads her to that turning point. You stand like a witness throughout the whole play, and you are just stunned as she and everyone else in the play when she makes that final decision–but you totally believe it. An excellent study in character and plot development, A Doll’s House should be a play that everyone reads at least once in their life. I promise, you’ll be hooked from the start.

much love,


Any plays you recommend reading?

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21 comments on “5 Plays You MUST Read Before You Die

  1. Me in trouble, I’ve never seen any of those, though I’ve heard of a couple. Actually, I’ve never been to a play…me bad, considering I’m in London of all places.

  2. Erika says:


    Correction: “A Doll’s House.”

    I will add these plays to my Amazon wish list!

    Thank you!

  3. Kiara says:

    Thanks for adding more to my to-be-read list, Ollin!

    Plays are definitely a reading field I need to explore, generally, I don’t read a wide range. I finished reading Shakespeare’s Othello a few weeks ago; I found it a really brilliant read. I loved how different it was from his other tragedies, and his language is always beautiful no matter how many years ago it was written.

  4. unabridgedgirl says:

    I love, A Doll’s House. I won best actress for my portrayl of Nora. Such an intense play. I haven’t read any of the other plays that you suggested, but I will have to add them to my never ending “to read” list, for sure! You always make great recommendations.

    Some of the plays I think everyone should read?

    1. The Crucible by Arthur Miller (because so much of it can be applied to today’s society)

    2. The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde (because everyone needs a good laugh)

  5. valbrussell says:

    Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar named Desire, A Raisin in the Sun. 🙂

  6. 83October says:

    This is an interesting list Ollin. I haven’t read any of those you mentioned. I’m familiar with Ibsen’s play, but never read it. I’ve read plays before mostly Shakespeare, Greek Dramas, and Oscar Wilde’s How to be Earnest.
    I’m going to try to check this out. Thanks. I’m enjoying these series of posts on books. 🙂

  7. jannatwrites says:

    I hadn’t read any of these and didn’t even have reading a play on my “to do” list. I may need to see if I can get any of these in my (growing) reading list. Thanks 🙂

  8. Margaret Edson’s debut play, Wit, the one-woman performance that portrays a college professor who has terminal ovarian cancer, for which Ms. Edson received a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1999. I could identify with the writer because, I, too, had been a Kindergarten teacher and because my mother died from ovarian cancer in 1985.

    Congratulations on being a finalist in the Top 10 Blogs for Writers on the Write to Done site.

    • Ollin says:

      That is a wonderful play. Thank you for the recommendation. I did see the movie version, but this encourages me to read the play.

      Oh, and thank you. I’m very excited about being a finalist!

  9. […] {See also: “5 Books You MUST Read Before You Die,” “5 Books You Must Read Before You Die {Non-Fiction},” “5 Plays You MUST Read Before You Die.” […]

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