While comedies lighten the mood for us, dramas tend to do the opposite. The stories that fall under this genre tend to “pull at our heart strings”, as they say and give us insight into lives that are unlike, or very much like our own. Here is a list of some great contemporary drama plays that have made their way across the stages of the world.
1. Clybourne Park
Written by Bruce Norris, this work was created as an intended branch of the 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun. Set alongside happenings in Chicago before the timing of Lorraine Hansberry’s original work, this drama opened in New York City in 2010 at the Playwrights Horizons. It closed after only one month of performances. In August of that same year Clybourne Park opened at the Royal Court Theatre in London with Dominic Cook sitting in the director’s chair.
On April 19, 2012, this drama premiered at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway in April of 2012. The shows were limited to only sixteen weeks and the production won the Tony Award that year for Best Play. Of course, like most works, Clybourne Park made its way through other locations before settling into Broadway.
In January of 2011 this play was produced by The Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton, Florida, and in September of that same year Clybourne Park was staged at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. Another 2011 production took place in Providence, Rhode Island by the Trinity Repertory Company. In March of 2012, this dramatic work had a run in Old City, Philadelphia at the Arden Theatre Company.
Other runs have been scattered throughout the years following the Broadway production. It is not only the recipient of the Tony Awards Best Play honor, Clybourne Park has been given the 2011 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play, the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the 2012 Theatre World Award.
2. Buried Child
Sam Shepard, who is widely known due to his acting career, wrote this next Pulitzer Prize winning drama, which premiered in June of 1978. The story follows a family in rural America and the “breakdown of traditional family structures.” This play also earned Shepard an Obie Award for that same year. Opening in San Francisco at the Magic Theatre, it would only take this work four months to settle on the East Coast at the Theater for the New City.
After a run at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 1995, director Gary Sinise moved the production to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, and it was nominated for five Tony Awards that year. In 2016, there was an Off-Broadway production as The Pershing Square Signature Center was given by The New Group, a theatre company committed to “developing and producing powerful, contemporary theater.” This production was directed by Scott Elliott and the run lasted from February 2nd up until April 3rd. This staging received a nod from the Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor, which Ed Harris won, and Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play, which was won by Paul Sparks.
Most recently, this dramatic work was revived in 2016 on London’s West End by the same company at Trafalgar Studios on November 12th. This work is considered by some to be grouped with two other Shepard works, Curse of the Starving Class and True West, as a trilogy, while others include Fool for Love and A Lie of the Mind, and dub it a quintet.
3. Glengarry Glen Ross
This David Mamet play, which has been remade into an iconic film starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Kevin Spacey, first premiered in September of 1983 in London at the National Theatre. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for its portrayal of real estate agents in Chicago and the lengths, no matter how low, they will go to dupe the customer. Glengarry Glen Ross made its way to Broadway in March of 1984 settling in at the John Golden Theatre.
The run lasted for nearly 400 performances, which were directed by Gregory Mosher with an ensemble that included Joe Mantegna, Mike Nussbaum, and Lane Smith. That year the Tony Awards gave Glengarry Glen Ross four nods including nominations for Best Pay and Best Director. Joe Mantegna was the only winner from this production, walking away with the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor.
Joe Mantello directed a revival of this work in May of 2005 on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Liv Schreiber, Alan Alda, Frederick Weller, Gordon Clapp, Jeffrey Tambor, Tom Wopat, and Jordan Lage all starred in this staging. This production also received many Tony Award nominations with Schreiber winning the Best Featured Actor Award and the entire production winning Best Revival of a Play.
An interesting fact is that the character Alec Baldwin played in the movie was not in the original stage versions.
4. Stop Kiss
Our next dramatic play was written by Diana Son, an American playwright who was born in Philadelphia. It opened in 1998 at an Off-Broadway location, Public Theater, and tells the story of a young lesbian couple who are brutally battered by a heated onlooker. Sara is hurt so badly she winds up in a coma and her ex-boyfriend comes to help her regain her health.
Jo Bonney directed the premiere production while Kaye Voyce created the costumes. Narelle Sissons designed the sets and lighting was fashioned by James Vermeulen. The show had three extensions.
5. The History Boys
Premiering at the Royal National Theatre in London on May 18, 2004, this next dramatic play was written by playwright Alan Bennet. The story surrounds a collection of history students who are studying for college entrance exams. Three educators guide them along the way even though their teaching methods differ greatly. It touches on homosexuality and childhood sexual abuse.
Nicholas Hytner directed the original production and every performance was sold out. The next year the production was revived and the second run was as successful as the first. The History Boys set out for a world tour in 2006 landing in places like Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Sydney. Opening on Broadway at the Broadhurst theatre on April 23, 2006. This production had an extended run through October of 2006 and subsequently won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, the New York Drama Critic’s Circle Best Play, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Broadway Play, and the 2006 Tony Award for Best Play.
This play was made into a film in 2006 starring the original cast and directed by Hytner as well. In January of 2007 another production toured the United Kingdom and opened at Wyndham’s Theatre in London. Other productions include a 2009 staging in Dallas at Uptown Players, 2008 production in Skipton, North Yorkshire by Ermysted’s Grammar School, and a 2009 show in Melbourne, Australia.
Check out the contemporary drama play Eve now available to stream online.