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March 25, 2020

Long Reads for Long Afternoons


With so much time on our hands, we now have the perfect opportunity to sink into a good, long read. Stretch out, make yourself some tea, and explore these titles guaranteed to fill your afternoons with hours of theatre magic.

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
(Dramatic Comedy)
This stunning classic is set between 1809 and the present at an elegant estate owned by the Coverly family. The 1809 scenes reveal a household in transition. As the Arcadian landscape is being transformed into picturesque Gothic gardens, complete with a hermitage, thirteen year-old Lady Thomasina and her tutor delve into intellectual and romantic issues. Present day scenes depict the Coverly descendants and two competing scholars who are researching a possible scandal at the estate in 1809 involving Lord Byron. This brilliant play moves smoothly between the centuries and explores the nature of truth and time, the difference between classical and romantic temperaments, and the disruptive influence of sex on our life orbits — the attraction Newton left out. (US/UK)

Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward
Looking for a little hilarity? Noël Coward offers up fussy, cantankerous novelist Charles Condomine, re-married but haunted (literally) by the ghost of his late first wife, the clever and insistent Elvira who is called up by a visiting “happy medium,” one Madame Arcati. As the (worldly and un-) personalities clash, Charles’ current wife, Ruth, is accidentally killed, “passes over,” joins Elvira, and the two “blithe spirits” haunt the hapless Charles into perpetuity. (US/UK)

August Wilson Century Cycle by August Wilson
(Drama / Dramatic Comedy)
August Wilson’s staggering collection of ten plays chronicles the hopes, dreams, and struggles of the African American community in different decades throughout the 20th century. Each play is a long read in itself, but for an extra challenge, try reading them all in order of decade. (US)

The plays are:

  • 1900s — Gem of the Ocean
    (Drama) Set in 1904, August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean begins on the eve of Aunt Esther’s 287th birthday. When Citizen Barlow comes to her Pittsburgh’s Hill District home seeking asylum, she sets him off on a spiritual journey to find a city in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. (US/UK)

  • 1910s — Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
    (Drama) In a black boarding house in Pittsburgh in 1911, each denizen has a different relationship to a past of slavery and to the urban present. They include the proprietors, an eccentric clairvoyant with a penchant for old country voodoo, a young homeboy up from the South, and a mysterious stranger searching for his wife. (US/UK)

  • 1920s — Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
    (Drama) It’s 1927 in a rundown studio in Chicago where Ma Rainey is recording new sides of old favorites. More goes down in the session than music in this riveting portrayal of rage, racism, the self hate and exploitation. (US/UK)

  • 1930s — The Piano Lesson
    (Drama) In 1936, Boy Willie arrives in Pittsburgh from the South in a battered truck loaded with watermelons to sell. He has an opportunity to buy some land down home, but he has to come up with the money right quick. He wants to sell an old piano that has been in his family for generations, but he shares ownership with his sister and it sits in her living room. She has already rejected several offers because the antique piano is covered with incredible carvings detailing the family’s rise from slavery. Boy Willie tries to persuade his stubborn sister that the past is past, but she is more formidable than he anticipated. (US/UK)

  • 1940s — Seven Guitars
    (Dramatic Comedy) In the backyard of a Pittsburgh tenement in 1948, friends gather to mourn for a blues guitarist and singer who died just as his career was on the verge of taking off. The action that follows is a flashback to the busy week leading up to Floyd’s sudden and unnatural death. Part bawdy comedy, part dark elegy, and part mystery. (US/UK)

  • 1950s — Fences
    (Drama) Troy Maxson, a former star of the Negro baseball leagues, now works as a garbage man in 1957 Pittsburgh. Excluded as a black man from the major leagues during his prime, Troy allows his bitterness to take its toll on his relationships with his wife and his son, who now wants his own chance to play ball. (US/UK)

  • 1960s — Two Trains Running
    (Drama) This chapter takes place in Memphis Lee’s coffee shop in a Pittsburgh neighborhood on the brink of economic development. The focus is on the characters who hang out there: a local sage, an elderly man who imparts the secrets of life as learned from a 322-year-old sage, an ex con, a numbers runner, a laconic waitress who slashed her legs to keep men away, and a mentally disabled man who was once cheated out of a ham. With Chekhovian obliqueness, the author reveals simple truths, hopes and dreams, creating a microcosm of an era and a community on the brink of change. (US/UK)

  • 1970s — Jitney
    (Drama) In 1970, the Hil
    l District of Pittsburgh is served by a makeshift taxi company. Becker, who runs the station, is world-weary and hit by two bitter blows: the city is about to tear down the decaying building that houses his taxi station, and his estranged son, Booster, who went to prison for 20 years for killing a woman, is coming home. Booster’s return triggers a long-awaited confrontation about the price of pride. (US/UK)

  • 1980s — King Hedley II
    (Drama) Peddling stolen refrigerators in the feeble hope of making enough money to open a video store, King Hedley, a man whose self worth is built on self delusion, scrapes the dirt of an urban backyard trying to plant seeds where nothing will grow. Getting, spending, killing and dying in a world where getting is hard and killing is commonplace are threads woven into this stunning play. The shadows of the past reach into the present as King seeks retribution for a lie perpetrated by his mother regarding the identity of his father. (US/UK)

  • 1990s — Radio Golf
    (Dramatic Comedy) A fast-paced, dynamic, and wonderfully funny work about the world today and the dreams we have for the future. Set in Pittsburgh in the late 1990s, it’s the story of a successful entrepreneur who aspires to become the city’s first black mayor. But when the past begins to catch up with him, secrets get revealed that could be his undoing. Completed shortly before Wilson’s death in 2005, this bittersweet drama of assimilation and alienation in nineties America traces the forces of change on a neighborhood and its people caught between history and the twenty-first century. (US/UK)

Copenhagen by Michael Frayn
In 1941, German physicist Werner Heisenberg went to Copenhagen to see his Danish counterpart, Niels Bohr. Together they had revolutionized atomic science in the 1920s, but now they were on opposite sides of a world war. In this incisive drama, the two men meet in a situation fraught with danger in hopes of discovering why we do what we do. (US/UK)

Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1 2 & 3 by Suzan-Lori Parks
Offered his freedom if he joins his master in the ranks of the Confederacy, Hero, a slave, must choose whether to leave the woman and people he loves for what may be yet another empty promise. As his decision brings him face-to-face with a nation at war with itself, the loved ones Hero left behind debate whether to escape or wait for his return…only to discover that for Hero, free will may have come at a great spiritual cost. Father Comes Home From the Wars is an explosively powerful drama about the mess of war, the cost of freedom, and the heartbreak of love, with all three parts seen in one night. Part 1 introduces us to Hero. In Part 2, a band of rebel soldiers test Hero’s loyalty as the cannons approach. Part 3 finds Hero’s loved ones anxiously awaiting his return. A devastatingly beautiful dramatic work filled with music, wit, and great lyricism, Father Comes Home From the Wars is an epic tale about holding on to who we are and what we love in a country that both brings us together and rips us apart. (US/UK)

The Hollow by Agatha Christie
An unhappy game of romantic follow-the-leader explodes into murder one weekend at The Hollow, home of Sir Henry and Lucy Angkatell, arguably Christie’s finest comic grande dame. Dr. Cristow, the Harley Street lothario, is at the center of the trouble when, assembled in one place, we find his dull but devoted wife, Gerda, his mistress and prominent sculptor, Henrietta and his former lover and Hollywood film star, Veronica. Also visiting are Edward and Midge, whose romantic assertions are likewise thrown into the mix. As the list of romantic associations grows so does the list of potential suspects when Cristow is shot dead. Nearly everyone has a motive, but only one of them did the deed. (US/UK)

The Honeycomb Trilogy by Mac Rogers
An electrifying trio of plays, The Honeycomb Trilogy is broken into three full-length parts: Advance Man, Blast Radius, and Sovereign. Though these plays are a part of the same universe, each play stands on its own. A thrilling and sincere sci-fi drama that indulges your want for the spectacular while grappling with the real human emotions that come with the end of the world.

  • Advance Man: Part One follows Astronaut Bill Cooke after he returns home from the first manned mission to Mars, bearing secret and illicit cargo. Now his wife and teenage children are all that stand between Bill and a shocking action that will alter not only their lives but also all of humanity. (US/UK)

  • Blast Radius: Part Two picks up twelve years after the events of Advance Man, and follows a sister and a brother at mortal odds in an Earth radically changed by an alien occupation. Ronnie leads a desperate human insurgency that might have finally found the weapon to turn the tide – at a terrible cost. Abbie, who has allied himself with the conquering alien race, may have found a chilling solution that will end human resistance for good. Action-packed and emotionally charged, Blast Radius is the story of a family and a world at war with itself. (US/UK)

  • Sovereign: Part Three takes place eight years after the events of Blast Radius and completes the story of the sister and brother. The alien race that has ruled the Earth has fallen to Ronnie’s rebellion, with the few remaining survivors on the run. The human race is slowly rebuilding, and Ronnie is now the battle-scarred governor of what used to be Florida. One night, Ronnie’s soldiers smuggle into her office the greatest war criminal in the world: her brother Abbie, the foremost human ally of the extraterrestrials. As Ronnie grapples with an awful decision about what to do with the man she both hates and loves, Abbie makes one last desperate move, forcing a confrontation that will forever change the future of the human race. Unfolding over two suspenseful real-time acts, Sovereign brings The Honeycomb Trilogy to a wrenching and unforgettable climax. (US/UK)

Noises Off by Michael Frayn
A manic menagerie of itinerant actors are rehearsing a flop called Nothing’s On. This backstage farce is complete with doors slamming, on and offstage intrigue, and an errant herring. One of the theatre’s classic, enduring comedies, Noises Off will fill your days with side-splitting jokes. (US/UK)

The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn
Living Together, Round and Round the Garden, and Table Manners make up this trilogy of plays. All occur during a single weekend in different parts of the same house and concern a group of related people. Each is complete in itself and can be played alone, or as a group they can be performed in any order. However, each benefits when produced with the others. A common factor is Norman’s inadequate attempts to involve himself in turn with his sister-in-law, his brother-in-law’s wife, and his own wife. (US/UK)

On the Rocks by Bernard Shaw
The Prime Minister is ill and, as a cure, is urged to learn to think. He soon learns that being able to think isn’t necessarily desirable when one is a politician. A hilarious, pointed, political comedy. (US)

The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard
Feuding theatre critics Moon and Birdboot, the first a fusty philanderer and the second a pompous and vindictive second stringer, are swept into the whodunit they are viewing. In the hilarious spoof of Agatha Christie-like melodramas that follows, the body under the sofa proves to be the missing first string critic. As mists rise about isolated Muldoon Manor, Moon and Birdfoot become dangerously implicated in the lethal activities of an escaped madman. (US/UK)

Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard
(Dramatic Comedy)
Rock ‘n’ Roll is an electrifying collision of the romantic and the revolutionary. It is 1968 and the world is ablaze with rebellion, accompanied by a sound track of the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Clutching his prized collection of rock albums, Jan, a Cambridge graduate student, returns to his homeland of Czechoslovakia just as Soviet tanks roll into Prague. When security forces tighten their grip on artistic expression, Jan is inexorably drawn toward a dangerous act of dissent. Back in England, Jan’s volcanic mentor, Max, faces a war of his own as his free-spirited daughter and his cancer-stricken wife attempt to break through his walls of academic and emotional obstinacy. Over the next twenty years of love, espionage, chance, and loss, the extraordinary lives of Jan and Max spin and intersect until an unexpected reunion forces them to see what is truly worth the fight. (US/UK)

For more exciting plays and musicals to fill your reading list, head to our website.

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(photo: Joan Marcus)