Welcome to the off season | Ten plays to read this summer

Summer is here. And so is the off season.

As the major theatres go dark, unless you’re planning to hit one of the festivals, chances are you’ll be spending more time outside than in over the next few months.

But even while enjoying every cove, trail and peak of the great northwest, you don’t have to leave the theatre behind. There’s nothing more fun than discovering a good play on the page. So here are 10 candidates you may not know to tuck inside the beach bag or backpack.

These are all a lot of fun – and none has hit a Portland stage (yet).

BACHELORETTE by Leslye Headland (2008). Second Stage did a terrific production of this girls night gone wrong in the summer of 2010. It was also made into a film in 2012. The play has some dark action and savagely cutting dialogue, and it brings surprising freshness to the typical post college anomie story. And instead of the usual bunch of guys behaving badly, it’s girls. NYT review.

THE FLICK by Annie Baker (2013). This year’s Pulitzer winner premiered in February 2013 at Playwrights Horizons. It’s vintage Baker, and the story follows the smaller horizons and moments of three low level employees in Northampton’s last film cinema (just before it goes digital). Unlike many Pulitzer winners, this one is not going to be done everywhere under the sun because it’s difficult to pull off and also asks a lot of the audience. If you thought Will Eno was an unlikely Broadway match, wait until THE FLICK arrives in midtown sometime this fall. That’s the rumor. NYT review.

LADY by Craig Wright (2008). One of the best plays Wright has ever written, but rarely done now because it is very specific to the Bush era. Sometime early in the Iraq war, three childhood friends reconvene for their traditional annual hunting trip in the woods of Illinois. Disagreements over politics and policy turn personal in this expertly crafted, well made play. Dogs, Dire Straits, and dope also play a starring role. NYT review.

FARRAGUT NORTH by Beau Willimon (2008). Before he became the creator of HOUSE OF CARDS, Willimon wrote several plays, including this zinger about political operatives in Iowa on an early presidential campaign not unlike Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s. The ultimate politico insider himself falls prey to the tactical equivalent of a suicide bomb. As the next presidential election cycle approaches, Willimon reminds us that timing is important (FARRAGUT opened just after Obama’s first election). So plan for that political thriller you’ve been working on to go up in October of 2016. NYT review.

ON THE MOUNTAIN by Christopher Shinn (2005). Set right here in Portand, Orygun, Shinn’s evocation of early 90’s Seattle grunge follows a woman who dated a Cobain-like super star and then moved south to PDX with her daughter to try to make a new life after his death. But the past comes calling in the form of a mysterious unknown song by the dead rocker. NYT review.

QUIETLY by Owen McCafferty (2012). One of the big hits last year in Edinburgh, this three character drama has been busy taking Ireland and the UK by storm via a touring Abbey production. Two characters from opposing sectarian sides meet up in the same Belfast pub where a bomb attack almost 20 years ago changed both their lives. When the elected political leaders won’t do crap to help mend the past or seek reconciliation in Northern Ireland, individuals have to take it into their own hands – with unexpected results. QUIETLY has not yet been produced in the US, but you can bet that when it finally lands on American shores it’s going to be done everywhere. This will be THE new Irish play any day now. Irish Theatre Magazine review.

THE VILLAGE BIKE by Penelope Skinner (2011). Currently lighting up the Lortel Theater on Christopher Street in a production starring Scott Shepherd and Greta Gerwig, this recent British play explores porn-infused sex fantasy – but from the female vantage point. There’s lots to think about on topics like feminism, power in relationships, and how women supposedly empower themselves by being sexy. Not. It’s pretty unsettling stuff, but the writing craft is top shelf. When a newly pregnant young woman moves to the countryside, she finds she’s not quite ready for the peaceful, rural life. NYT review.

FABULATION, OR THE RE-EDUCATION OF UNDINE by Lynn Nottage (2004). An oldy but goody. Back before some of her better known plays, Nottage wrote this very funny send up of the black bourgeoisie. Undine (nee Sharona) has left Brooklyn and family behind for a life in upscale Manhattan. But when her marriage and PR business crater, our hero finds herself back in the projects living with her parents and brother. In order to survive, Undine has to dig deep and scrap with the best of ’em. Some unforgettable craic hangin’ with the ladies in prison. NYT review. Also, there is a superb audio version of the play from LA Theatre Works. LATW records its productions before a live audience, and this one was as live as they come.

WHERE WE’RE BORN by Lucy Thurber (2003). Part of last year’s stunning inaugural version of Theater Village, an annual play festival put on by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater that features multiple plays by the same author or around a shared theme, WHERE WE’RE BORN was one of five Thurber plays on offer. The story follows college freshman Lily’s infatuation with Franky, a mid 20’s woman attached to Lily’s cousin Tony. We’re in the bleak, post industrial, rural New England landscape that all of Thurber’s plays inhabit, and there’s some fascinating interplay between advanced sexual politics and alliances, on the one hand, and beer drinking good old boys, on the other. Thurber is a playwright to know.

JERUSALEM by Jez Butterworth (2009). And last but not least, another one of those Royal Court classics, and the play that gave Mark Rylance yet another unforgettable role (and Olivier Award) as Johnny Byron, a sobriety-challenged miscreant living in a trailer in the English countryside and playing den father to a florid parade of runaways, addicts, and revelers. The local council wants Johnny’s trailer gone so a new estate can go up. But before the last vestiges of olde England are plowed under, there’s gonna be some trouble in them thar hils. NYT review.

Enjoy the endless summer…

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