Best Contemporary Plays
Do you want to read or perform new plays? These are the top contemporary plays of our time, written by the best modern playwrights.
1. Anna in the Tropics (2003)
You are a Cuban immigrant working in a Tampa, Florida, cigar mill in 1929. A guy known as a lector reads aloud to you from the front of the room as you toil away at this tiresome chore for many hours. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play Anna in the Tropics is based on this amazing and real-life scene. In this wonderful drama, Nilo Cruz displays his amazing, almost poetic use of language. The dull world of the workers is upended as El Lector reads Anna Karenina, and their passions and struggles reach a boiling point.
Playwright: Nilo Cruz
2. 365 Days/365 Plays (2003)
As you would infer from the title, 365 Days/365 Plays is a collection of 365 plays rather than a single contemporary piece. Suzan-Lori Parks accomplished the genuinely amazing achievement of producing one play per day for an entire year. A different aspect of what it means to be an American is explored in each of the stories. You can now either produce the entire, yearly cycle of plays or a selection of performances.
Playwright: Suzan-Lori Park
3. Almost, Maine (2004)
Almost, Maine is one of the strangest plots of any contemporary plays. The show was a huge success when it had its Portland debut in 2004, but it only lasted one month after moving to the off-Broadway Daryl Roth Theatre. It has now grown to be one of the most well-liked productions among high school and community theater companies. The cause? Maybe the 11 vignette-style love stories’ contagious good humor, naïve joy, and gentleness.
Playwright: John Carian
4. August: Osage County (2007)
On the surface, the firmly Midwestern Weston family appears normal. But when the patriarch vanishes, the crew comes together, and the truth comes hysterically to the surface. Your laughter will be laced with grief after a few moments thanks to Letts’ subtle, excellent insights in the writing. The strength of the writing was immediately apparent; August: Osage County, which received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama and played on Broadway for nearly two years, was a prime example. It is regularly performed in theaters all around the nation, solidifying its status as one of the most well-known contemporary plays.
Playwright: Tracy Lett
5. A Girl in School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) (2018)
In a dystopian city, a girl has disappeared. There is danger everywhere, and unexplained blackouts are making people anxious. A Girl in School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) may have a clever title, but the film is anything but a comedy. It’s a compelling, unsettling examination of how women are treated in both this vaguely futuristic setting and in the contemporary era.
Playwright: Lulu Raczka
6. Becky Shaw (2008)
It’s difficult to find contemporary plays written now that are as funny as those written by Becky Shaw. This fast-paced modern comedic drama stands out in any theatrical season because it is witty and more than a bit cynical. The story revolves around a strange friendship that develops after a first date. You will be relieved that you don’t have to hang out with the characters in real life because they are humorous and flawed. If you can get over the discomfort, it’s not difficult to understand why this piece came in second place for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Playwright: Gina Gionfriddo
7. Blackbird (2005)
Blackbird is a three-person play that is both intimate and intense. Not for the faint of heart, this piece depicts the meeting of a predator and his adult victim. The premise is as horrifying as it seems; at times, it’s almost unbearable. This play received its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival before going on to win the Tony Award for Best Play Revival and the Olivier Award for Best New Play.
Playwright: David Harrower
8. Bootycandy (2011)
In Bootycandy, the experience of growing up as a Black homosexual guy is examined. The playwright Robert O’Hara’s own childhood served as inspiration for the writing, which is both humorous and moving. It lends an exuberant, irreverent twist to clichéd events and cliches. The outcome is an odd patchwork of drawings and scenarios; it works best when you accept its strange format and take it easy.
Playwright: Robert O’Har
9. Clybourne Park (2010)
Clybourne Park, which won Tony, Olivier, and Pulitzer prizes, meets the criteria if you’re looking for hilarious modern plays. Although this play has the style of a Jane Austen novel, it is actually A Raisin in the Sun’s sequel. Although the plot delves into racial issues and discrimination, Norris manages to craft a riotously humorous, delectably witty novel while doing so.
Playwright: Bruce Norri
10. Cost of Living (2016)
Cost of Living examines the lives of two physically challenged people, but don’t anticipate a happy ending; the story is solidly rooted in reality, complete with all of its unsettling and upsetting truths. The script takes a complex and heartbreaking look at privilege in all its forms.
Playwright: Martyna Majo
11. “Daddy”: A Melodrama (2019)
With Slave Play, Jeremy O. Harris gained notoriety; with “Daddy,” he is eager to surprise viewers. You’ll get to know Franklin, his much younger boyfriend, and Andre, a wealthy elder art collector. Conflict starts when Franklin’s mother shows up, brimming with disapproval. Despite the conflicting reviews for “Daddy,” it’s an intriguing and unmistakably contemporary look at racial and economic tensions in the art industry.
Playwright: Jeremy O. Harri
12. Doubt: A Parable (2004)
This profound, affecting modern piece by John Patrick Shanley exposes the murky secrets of a Catholic school. The mother of a young student, two nuns, a priest, and the story of possible abuse—and the skepticism around the claim—are told. Shanley’s subtle prose will make you constantly doubt your own judgment and your presumptions. Speculation: In 2005, the Broadway production of A Parable won a Tony Award and won a Pulitzer Prize. Look for a production of Doubt at a nearby campus; it has grown to be one of the most well-liked modern plays among college students.
Playwright: John Patrick Shanle
13. Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue (2006)
Quiara Alegra Hudes is a name you might be familiar with because she penned the book for the musical In the Heights. Hudes revisits the history of military duty among many Puerto Rican family generations in Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue. At the age of 19, the main character learns that his trauma is similar to that of his father and grandpa as he returns from a second tour in Iraq. Get a sense of the atmosphere here; the narration is abstract, so it takes some concentration.
Playwright: Quiara Alegría Hude
14. Enron (2009)
Even though a corporate failure might not seem like good material for a play, Enron embraces the challenge with enthusiasm. This contemporary play, which is lively and quick-paced, follows CEO Jeffrey Skilling through the company’s wildly fluctuating rise and demise. Prebble makes complex ideas seem more approachable, so you might even pick up a few new skills. (Or “clear to the point of simple-mindedness,” if Ben Brantley is to be believed.)
Playwright: Lucy Prebbl
15. Fairview (2018)
Fairview first appears to be a fairly typical family story. A Black family named the Frasiers is getting ready for a family birthday party, but nothing is going as planned. Everything is going awry between day drinking and teenage drama. Act 2 follows, with a new set of events that are this time watched and discussed by a cast of white characters. (And it goes further than that.) A surprisingly effective technique to shed light on issues of racial inequality and prejudice is through the odd structure.
Playwright: Jackie Sibblies Drury
Licensing: Dramatists Play Service
16. God of Carnage (2006)
God of Carnage centers on a fight between two boys that takes place in the schoolyard, despite its majestic title. When the parents finally get together to discuss the problem, the conversation turns crazy. This modern play explores the wild passions and rage that lurk beneath a life that seems to be middle-class civility and is equal parts funny and tragic.
Playwright: Yasmina Reza (translator: Christopher Hampton
17. Heroes of the Fourth Turning (2019)
Give Heroes of the Fourth Turning a pass if you’re worn out with the continual political “discourse” (we’re using that term loosely). However, if you have the time, it’s well worth reading this smart drama. It follows a group of smart Catholic conservatives with strong opinions as they reconvene in their college town in Wyoming. Because they are intellectuals, the discussion won’t make you feel mentally exhausted. The drama offers an engrossing reflection on contemporary politics, the arts, and religion.
Playwright: Will Arber
18. HIR (2015)
People who experience an imbalanced power dynamic in their families frequently ponder what life might be like if the hierarchy were to be reversed. The exact same thing occurs in HIR when Isaac returns home to find his controlling father under the power of his now-free mother due to a stroke. He and his younger sibling are working to overthrow the patriarchy now that their younger sibling has come out as transgender. The “absurd realism” aesthetic that Mac is known for greatly enhances this dark humor.
Playwright: Taylor Ma
19. I Am My Own Wife (2003)
I Am My Own Wife is a one-person play about a German transvestite who lived from 1928 to 2002 and is based on the crazy life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. After using a rolling pin to murder her father, a prominent Nazi, von Mahlsdorf went on to live through some of the most trying decades in modern times. She rose to prominence in the LGBT community of Berlin. Von Mahlsdorf, who dressed in drag and worked with the Stasi to survive, is honored in Wright’s Pulitzer-winning drama in a tender and ultimately endearing way.
Playwright: Doug Wrigh
20. In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) (2009)
In the Next Room, also known as The Vibrator Play, transports you back to the late 1880s despite the title’s apparent modernity. This is a modern play that is set in the Victorian era, when male doctors frequently gave their female patients the “diagnosis” of hysteria. Orgasms were used as a remedy. (Therefore, the name.) The story’s factual foundation makes it all the more bizarre. This Pulitzer and Tony finalist is humorous and unexpectedly compassionate; it is not shocking.
Playwright: Sarah Ruh
21. Indecent (2015)
The year is 1906, and Sholem Asch has just finished composing the stunning Yiddish drama God of Vengeance about the romance between two women. The play’s history is traced in Indecent, starting with its debut performance in Berlin and ending with its Broadway premiere in 1923, when the cast is detained on suspicion of obscenity. It continues with a clandestine reading in Poland under Nazi rule and concludes with a proposed revision made at Yale in the 1950s. The script provides a close-up view of the players and the daily struggles of each production. This amazing theatrical achievement combines emotion, history, and passion.
Playwright: Paula Voge
22. Man from Nebraska (2003)
In Tracy Letts’ play, Ken (a man from Nebraska, of course) suffers with a spiritual crisis. He departs from Lincoln and makes his first foray into the big wide world, arriving in London, on the recommendation of his pastor. Ken’s — purportedly missing — religion is put to the test as he navigates brand-new relationships and unavoidable temptations. This charming program is lighthearted and funny—a cure for any soul in need.
Playwright: Tracy Lett
23. Omnium Gatherum (2003)
Omnium Gatherum —It’s a quick-witted play, not to be mistaken with the Finnish death metal band of the same name. A dinner party in Manhattan features a diverse group of attendees attending not long after 9/11. (The characters might be recognizable to you; they are all ripoffs of well-known cultural figures.) The cast is processing the horrific events and their wider consequences for the globe as a whole, which causes conversation and arguments to rise and fall.
Playwrights: Theresa Rebeck, Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaro
24. On Every Link a Heart Does Dangle; or Owed (2019)
On Every Link a Heart Does Dangle or Owed are the two best options if you’re looking for a difficult-to-find contemporary play. It is an intriguing retelling of the Oedipus Rex myth. Mellie, a lady with a disability who has alienated the gods and the inhabitants of Thebes, is the main character of the story rather than Oedipus. Mellie and the other women must save the city because the men have failed it.
Playwright: Tim J. Lor
25. Rabbit Hole (2006)
The devastating repercussions of loss on a family are examined in Rabbit Hole. The Corbett family fights for survival after an unspeakable tragedy, each in their own way. Anyone who has ever through the valley of the shadow will be able to relate to the moving tale in this Pulitzer Prize–winning play because it is neither sentimental nor histrionic, but instead heartbreakingly honest.
Playwright: David Lindsay-Abair
26. Ruined (2008)
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a civil war is unfolding, and Mama Nadi is struggling to stay afloat. She manages a brothel where troops have “ruined” women are taken in. The narrative examines the absurdly difficult and dubious choices that women must make in order to survive in a society that has been completely devastated by men. It was inspired by Lynn Nottage’s encounters with actual survivors in Africa. It’s just as depressing as you might expect, but there is a glimmer of hope.
Playwright: Lynn Nottag
27. Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads (2002)
Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads is an intriguing modern book to read if you enjoy sports, controversy, and British football. Although it takes place in 2000, the story nevertheless uncomfortably applies to the present. A group of supporters break loose in a pub after the British side loses. The conversation is frighteningly similar in its racial, xenophobic, and misogynist undertones. It serves as a terrifying reminder of the perils of nationalism.
Playwright: Roy William
28. Slave Play (2018)
A daring and unexpected study of race and sex is Slave Play. An “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy” session is attended by three mixed-race couples at the McGregor Plantation. Intentionally difficult to read and see, the script forces readers and viewers to confront age-old concerns of power and prejudice. It was referred to as “the most controversial show on Broadway” by Vox during its 2019 New York run. Given that Harris wrote the play during his first year at Yale, Slave Play received 12 Tony nominations, which is a remarkable achievement for any author.
Playwright: Jeremy O. Harri
29. Straight White Men (2014)
Four straight white males have gathered to enjoy Christmas in their middle-class Midwestern house. You guessed it. While dealing with various challenges in their lives, the four are fully aware of their privileged status (thanks to the absent mother). It’s an intriguing, though occasionally enigmatic, look into the psychology of contemporary straight white males.
Playwright: Young Jean le
30. Take Me Out (2002)
The tale of baseball star Darren Lemming is told in the all-male comedy Take Me Out. Lemming thinks everything will be alright if he casually declares he is gay at a press conference. Everything goes to hell when a bigoted and racist pitcher joins the squad. The main plot is alright, but the charming side story about Lemming’s accountant falling in love with the game is where the true fun is. Take Me Out is a lighthearted and witty play that received the 2003 Tony Award for Best Play.
Playwright: Richard Greenberg
31. Sweat (2015)
The lives of a group of suffering blue-collar workers in Reading, Pennsylvania, are the subject of Lynn Nottage’s play Sweat, which continues the popular tradition of contemporary playwrights who write about poverty. She skillfully incorporates the social and political climate of the time, providing understanding into the mindset and conduct of her characters. It isn’t encouraging because the characters’ resentment and wrath explode off the page, but it is undoubtedly revealing.
Playwright: Lynn Nottage
32. War Horse (2007)
War Horse is about — A warhorse, as you probably figured. The script’s origins as a children’s book are evident in its simplicity, emotionality, and undeniable power. (Perhaps a little overly sappy, but given the underlying material, that can be overlooked.) This play’s staging, which makes use of puppets with cage-like design, is where the real enchantment lies.
Playwright: Nick Stafford, Michael Morpurgo
33. The History Boys (2004)
Don’t be fooled by The History Boys’ quick wit and lighthearted banter; this endearing drama has a lot to say. One of those contemporary plays that is so simple to watch that the real-life situations hit you all the more. The novel, which is centered on a group of pupils preparing for exams at an English boys’ school, teaches them about the consequences of history and the reality of life as they go.
Playwright: Alan Bennett
34. Topdog/Underdog (2001)
Suzan-Lori Parks, one of the most renowned contemporary playwrights, is the author of Topdog/Underdog, one of the best modern plays. In fact, it was awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. After a difficult upbringing, brothers Lincoln and Booth — yes, the names are deliberate — are just trying to survive. Although Lincoln aspires to live a moral life, Booth can’t help but undermine him. This is a story about sibling conflict, the kind that has terrible repercussions.
Playwright: Suzan-Lori Parks
35. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2012)
Christopher Boone, 15, has just found out that his neighbor’s dog has been killed with a garden fork. It is seven minutes past midnight. Christopher is adamant about finding the answer and is somewhere on the autism spectrum (the novel doesn’t provide a specific diagnosis). Readers get a glimpse of Christopher’s incredibly rational worldview in the movie The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is based on the Mark Haddon book of the same name. It’s heartfelt, humorous, and worth reading.
Playwright: Mark Haddon, adapted by Simon Stephens
36. Water by the Spoonful (2011)
You might be familiar with Quiara Alegra Hudes from her play Eliot, a Soldier’s Fugue; in this sequel, she again addresses the difficulties faced by troops who have just returned from combat. The intertwining effects of addiction, trauma, and family dynamics portray a depressing picture of people who are barely hanging on. It’s a rich and fulfilling journey when you’re in the correct frame of mind.
Playwright: Quiara Alegría Hudes
37. The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (2002)
You won’t be anticipating this story aspect, but a man falls in love with a goat. Yes, you did read that right. Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? is a surprising contribution. Albee investigates human inclinations with unsettling honesty; it is not intended to be an absurd comedy. When it appeared on Broadway, several audience members simply left the theater because it was so uncomfortable. Is the topic one that merits being included in the play? It’s up to you whether or not they get a Tony nomination.
Playwright: Edward Albee
38. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (2012)
Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike provides a welcome break from the grim, nasty themes that many contemporary playwrights are so determined to explore. When their renowned sister Masha and her much younger (and much less intelligent) boyfriend Spike come to visit, their boring Chekhovian life is turned on its head. Vanya and Sonia are siblings and roommates. A cleaning lady with premonition abilities is the icing on the fun cake. Elisabeth Vincentelli noted in her 2013 New York Post review of the Broadway play that “this is the kind of full-on comedy that’s unfortunately rare on Broadway” — and we couldn’t agree more.
Playwright: Christopher Durang
39. The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence (2013)
Madeleine George examines the Watsons of the globe and their contributions to the most significant events in human history. This Watson refers to Sherlock Holmes’ dependable helper. In this odd and clever play, four different Watsons—both real and fictional, human and computer—as well as their Holmes-inspired counterparts—are included. The play travels around in time. Though some pairings are more enjoyable than others, it’s a brilliant idea. The play’s central theme is a profound (but thankfully not tiresome) reflection on the interaction between people and technology.
Playwright: Madeleine George
40. Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (2009)
Many contemporary plays depict military stories, although they frequently adopt a human viewpoint. We get to experience the war through a tiger’s perspective in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. What more could you ask for in a drama with ghosts, prosthetic hands, and gold toilet seats? It’s an intriguing and compelling story that presents a little happier but tragic viewpoint. Catch a live performance if you can; it’s captivating even when performed by amateurs.
Playwright: Rajiv Joseph
41. One Man, Two Guvnors (2011)
One Man, Two Guvnors had its world premiere in 2011, but it had been in development since 1743. Isn’t theater wonderful? Francis, a down-on-his-luck individual, accepts employment with Stanley and Roscoe, two gangsters. Francis is actually working for Roscoe’s sister, Rachel, who is impersonating her brother; he is unaware that the real Roscoe is deceased. Even worse, Rachel falls in love with Stanley, the man who murdered her brother. This absurd comedy will make you laugh aloud.
Playwright: Richard Bean
42. Yellow Face (2007)
David Henry Hwang, a playwright, describes Yellow Face as a “unreliable memoir.” The plot, which combines elements of fact and fiction, centers on a figure by the name of DHH who is writing a play and objecting to the 1991 decision to cast Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer in the film Miss Saigon. The play explores how race issues have been handled in the entertainment business with humor and optimism. It’s not at all preachy; after openly expressing his opinions, DHH chooses a bad cast and comes up with a unique strategy to handle the fallout.
Playwright: David Henry Hwang
43. The Ferryman (2017)
1981 finds the Carney family in Northern Ireland enjoying the harvest on their farm. An IRA leader pays Quinn, a former soldier in the organization, a threatening visit. Quinn’s brother, who vanished after Quinn left the gang, has been found dead, and the IRA wants to avoid being held accountable. Each family member begins to tell their story while this truth hangs over the gathering. It’s a sizable, vivacious storytelling masterwork that is equally pleasant on stage as it is in print.
Playwright: Jez Butterworth
44. What the Constitution Means to Me (2017)
One of the more odd modern pieces on our list is What the Constitution Means to Me, which is equal parts autobiography, history lesson, and social criticism. The playwright Heidi Schreck performed in the original presentations, and the majority of the show focuses on concerns specific to women. Schreck discusses anything from abuse to the groups the Constitution ignores (hint: it’s most of us) without being preachy or monotonous. The script, which is meant to feel impromptu, has a Leslie Knope-like quality to it.
Playwright: Heidi Schreck
45. The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow
The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow is witty and endearingly bizarre and offers a new, surprisingly intelligent perspective on the issue of people against technology. Jennifer, a young, tech-savvy agoraphobe who is terrified to leave her room, is our leading woman. She builds a robot twin named Jenny Chow to carry out her desire to search for her birth mother in China. The script is funny, touching, and worth reading even though it has several issues.
Playwright: Rolin Jones
46. Blink (2013)
Blink is a charming, small-scale romantic comedy; don’t worry, it’s not overly sentimental. There are only two characters, and they never speak to one another in person; instead, they communicate via a baby monitor. Despite being written in 2013, the drama has an all-too-familiar feeling of solitude. The author Phil Porter created a special framework that mirrors the characters’ naivete and simplicity. It is humorous, poignant, and more than a bit strange.
Playwright: Phil Porter
47. Revolt, She Said, Revolt Again (2016)
Revolt, She Said, Revolt Again is a must-read if you’re sick of seeing violence against women utilized as a story device in theater, cinema, and television. This modern drama recognizes that even in the theater, we are not safe, and in response, it answers with a furious roar of rage, denouncing the ways in which women are (still!) marginalized and oppressed. This is the most difficult form of modern theater—intentionally fragmented, direct, and alternately amusing and devastating.
Playwright: Alice Birch
48. The Hot Wing King (2020)
The Hot Wing King’s basic premise is that Cordell wants to win a Memphis hot wing competition that takes place every year. The turbulence of his adopted and biological families swirls around him as he perfects his recipe. Hall was motivated by her brother, a Black gay man living in the south and author of the book for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. You’re nearly guaranteed to identify the delightful characters in this modern play because of Hall’s natural, unforced approach. This new play was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Drama despite the fact that critics called the plot “lopsided” and “meandering” (and it is both).
Playwright: Katori Hall
49. The Flick (2013)
The three-hour-long drama The Flick is a monster. It seems like a lot because of the writing’s normally quiet style and the unremarkable backdrop of a movie theater. This isn’t a play for the TikTok generation; to get the occasional understated but smart payout, you’ll need to extend out your attention span. Unsurprisingly, audiences and critics responded differently to the drawn-out Chekhovian theatrical production (the first act alone lasted close to two hours), yet Baker was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her outstanding writing.
Playwright: Annie Baker
50. Escaped Alone (2016)
One performance of Escaped Alone was referred to as “a summer tea party on the verge of doom.” Four chatty, retired British women are skillfully used by Caryl Churchill as the voice of the end-of-the-world prophecy. Although the exposure of the women’s deepest secrets seems like a needless addition to an already intriguing event, it is odd yet amusing. The play’s runtime of less than an hour is just ideal; it gives the audience and readers enough time to process the upsetting material without making them get tired of the premise.
Playwright: Caryl Churchill
51. An Octoroon (2010)
An Octoroon tells the tale of a contemporary playwright attempting to adapt an 1859 play about slavery in the United States that was written by an Irish playwright. To determine exactly what’s distressing about the script, it looks at its numerous issues, talks about race as a social construct, and tackles the concept of blackface (as well as whiteface and redface). One of the most original and perceptive modern plays has emerged as a result.
Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
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