Why You Should Be Reading Plays

If you haven’t read a play since Hamlet in high school, it’s time to give the drama section of your bookstore a second chance. In just an hour or two, you can experience a complete story in a medium that brings great dialogue and complex relationships to the foreground.

Olivier Hamlet
I love Shakespeare as much as the next person, but if this is your mental image of drama, it’s time for an update.

          If you love vivid writing that “plays a movie in your mind” or like to create your own imaginings of characters, you’ll slip right into the world of a good play. Reading a play means you get a story stripped down to the bare essentials: who was there and what they said. The playwright relies on you to give the story life. A well-written play won’t spoon-feed you anything; it’s up to you to intuit the subtext and character motivations.

          I love to read dialogue-heavy fights–big group arguments and one-on-one verbal duels. Playwrights do this better than anyone. For a scene to work properly when performed, characters have to react to one another with precision and emotional truth. When you read a great fight in drama, you can feel the rise and fall of tension and sense exactly when the mood shifts.  

85.jpg          Unlike other kinds of published writings, plays aren’t meant to be consumed as a final product. They’re a blueprint, a starting place for other creative professionals to use to make their own art. Even though plenty of plays appear in book form in stores, the author didn’t write those words with that end in mind. Reading a play is one of the only reading experiences you can have where you, as the reader, are not the intended audience. It’s like peeking behind the curtain and catching a glimpse of the process just at the moment the playwright hands the story off to a production.

          Don’t know where to start? I like to point friends to Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, a sharp and hilarious exploration of feminism and femininity that spans decades. I’m also a big fan of David Auburn’s heart-wrenching, math-infused Proof for first-time play readers. With just four characters, it’s very easy to follow.

 

Do you ever read plays for pleasure? How is it different from reading a novel? What are your favorite plays for reading?

 

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