The Joy of Reading Plays (At Home)
With COVID-19 still running rampant, it’ll likely be many months before we all feel comfortable going to a theater to see a play or musical unfold onstage. Yet with a little imagination, there’s a way you can savor the sensation of a drama come to life from the comfort of your home. All you need to do is crack open a script and get comfortable.
My love for reading plays goes as far back as high school, when my freshman English class was assigned, “12 Angry Men” by Reginald Rose and given roles to read aloud in class.
That love for drama-on-the-page grew in college, when I was introduced to plays like “The Little Foxes” by Lillian Hellman and “Machinal” by Sophie Treadwell, and then when I reviewed plays during my early reporting days with Central Connecticut State University’s student newspaper. Between the assigned readings and the live performances on campus, I’d pick up a few scripts in my free time, diving into tragedies, comedies, farce and more.
Over the last few years, I’ve added an assortment of plays to my reading list, some of which I collected through my own research and some of which were recommended by friends.
Some plays I devoured with rapture: Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” David Margulies’ “Dinner With Friends,” and David Auburn’s “Proof.”
A few plays broke my heart: “The Normal Heart” and“The Laramie Project.”
Some plays stopped time for me while I absorbed the action taking place on the page, especially Peter Shaffer’s “Equus.”
And then there were the plays that I struggled to form a connection with but still appreciated for their contributions: most of David Mamet’s work and Eugene O’Neill’s “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
I admit to reading the lines aloud, not just to absorb their meaning but to fully understand the emotional depth an actor has to embody to deliver the lines effectively to their audience. And though it’s a pale substitute for the thrill of watching a playwright’s ideas brought to life by actors and sets, it can be powerful nonetheless to have a story revealed to you in that context.
If I let the words overwhelm, I can imagine the action taking place on stage as described in the text. Even as I read the stage directions for blocking scenes and characters, that magic of observing a shift in scene, of characters and of emotions is tangible and has me turning pages to find out what will happen next. There are even times when I close the book on the final page and find myself sitting stunned, just as I would be in person at the moment the curtains are lowered.