Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The ten greatest American plays?

What are the ten greatest American plays? A recent survey of 177 theatre experts and students quoted by the Denver Post cites the following:

1. Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller

2. Angels in America, Tony Kushner

3. A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams

4. Long Day's Journey into Night, Eugene O'Neill

5. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Edward Albee

6. Our Town, Thornton Wilder

7. The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams

8. A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry

9. The Crucible, Arthur Miller

10. Fences, August Wilson

Not a bad list, huh, although anyone might quibble here and there. So what were the next ten, ranked 11-20?

11. August: Osage County, Tracy Letts

12. Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet

13. Buried Child, Sam Shepard

14. The Iceman Cometh, Eugene O'Neill

15. All My Sons, Arthur Miller

16. (tie) You Can't Take it With You, Kaufman and Hart

16. (tie) Joe Turner's Come and Gone, August Wilson

18. The Piano Lesson, August Wilson

19. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams

20. American Buffalo, David Mamet

Some 265 plays were cited in the survey. You can read the whole list here.


  1. Even more interesting, the article points out that these "most important plays" cut across gender and race lines in the respondents as well.

    And, (speaking of cutting across the lines,) I would venture to guess that a survey of audiences made up of casual to avid playgoers would probably come up with a very similar list. Although after the Jeopardy incident recently, I'm not so sure.

    I was a little surprised not to see Neil Simon, but then I clicked through to see that he sits just outside the top 20 at number 21.

    Another note: the list degenerates quickly into "the mug's game of canonical prophecy." But I guess that makes sense, since you can't have 260 + Most Important Plays.

  2. You're back from New York! What did you see?

    I find that consensus around the top 10 kind of re-assuring, don't you? I think I stake everything I do here on this blog on the gamble that Time is the great critic, the only one I try to serve, and that despite all the post-structuralist b.s. and the identity politics, the wheat will slowly still be winnowed from the chaff. (I'm just trying to be one of the first winnowers!) That list gives me some hope I'm making the right gamble.

  3. I'm reading through the list and find it funny that the choice quote for Raisin in the Sun is actually from the Langston Hughes poem, "A Dream Deferred" that inspired the title and not by Hansberry. It's a famous poem that even someone like myself who has huge gaps in his knowledge about American literature recognizes.