I've been looking over the results of a poll by the Denver Post that came up with the 10 most important American plays. They are:
1.) Death of a Salesman
2.) Angels in America
3.) A Streetcar Named Desire
4.) Long Day's Journey Into Night
5.) Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
6.) Our Town
7.) The Glass Menagerie
8.) A Raisin in the Sun
9.) The Crucible
The only one I haven't seen is The Glass Menagerie. I've seen four on stage - Our Town, A Raisin in the Sun, Fences and The Crucible - and movie versions of the others. (My high school put on The Crucible, so it's been a long time!)
The newspaper surveyed people connected with the theatre world and the list is filled with high school and college English class fare. They're older works, which I guess is how you become a classic.
Two things surprised me about the list.
First, they're all exceedingly serious. Hasn't anyone written a great American comedy? Second, the article includes a quote from each play and I was surprised by how few I recognized.
These are important plays for the way they illuminate American life. But if I didn't already know the names of the top 10, I would only have been able to match the dialogue to the play for three - Death of A Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire and A Raisin in the Sun.
I'm not sure that's important. A great play is more than a collection of snappy one-liners, right? Maybe it's just a reflection of my lousy memory. I can't quibble with the list or say that I would have done any better.
Anyway, here's a clip from a 1985 TV production of Death of A Salesman, adapted from the 1984 Broadway revival. It featured Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman, John Malkovich as Biff, Stephen Lang as Happy and Kate Reid as Linda.
For Willy's sake, please pay attention!