10 Plays That Theater Newcomers Should See

The Essential Plays That Everyone Needs to Watch

If you haven't seen a live play since high school theater, you may be wondering where to begin. Which plays are essential to a well-rounded theater experience? Here are plays that have captivated reviewers and audiences for years and are continually produced on large and small stages. 

From an introduction to Shakespeare to thought-provoking classics like "Death of a Salesman," and even some laugh-out-loud stage antics, these ten plays are essential for the newcomer to check out as a perfect introduction to the great variety of plays available.

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"A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare

A scene from


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No such list would be complete without at least one Shakespearean play. Sure, "Hamlet" is more profound and "Macbeth" is more intense, but "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is the perfect introduction for those new to Will's world.

One might think that Shakespeare's words are too challenging for a theatrical newcomer. However, this fantasy-themed play of fairies and mixed-up lovers conveys a fun, easy-to-understand storyline. The sets and costumes tend to be the most imaginative of the Bard's productions.

Even if you don't understand the Elizabethan dialogue, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is still a wondrous sight to behold.

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"The Miracle Worker" by William Gibson

A scene from

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Other playwrights such as Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neil may have created more intellectually stimulating material than William Gibson's biographic play of Hellen Keller and her instructor Anne Sullivan. However, few plays contain such raw, heartfelt intensity. 

With the right cast, the two main roles generate inspiring performances as one little girl struggles to stay in silent darkness, and one loving teacher shows her the meaning of language and love.

As a testament to the play's truthful power, "The Miracle Worker" is performed every summer at Ivy Green, the birthplace of Hellen Keller.

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"Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller

The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Arthur Miller's

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For some, this play is a bit overrated and heavy-handed. Some may even feel that the messages delivered in the play's final act are a bit too blatant.

Still, Arthur Miller's play is a vital addition to American theater. It is worthy of viewing if only to witness an actor taking on one of the most challenging and rewarding characters in the history of the stage: Willy Loman.

As the play's doomed protagonist, Loman is pathetic yet captivating. As an audience, we cannot look away from this struggling, desperate soul. And we cannot help but wonder how similar he is to ourselves.

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"The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde's

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A striking contrast to the heaviness of modern drama, this witty play by Oscar Wilde has been delighting audiences for over a century.

Playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw felt that Wilde's work exhibited literary genius but lacked social value. Yet, if one values satire, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is a delectable farce that pokes fun at Victorian England's upper-class society.

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"Antigone" by Sophocles

A production of

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Yes, you should definitely see at least one Greek tragedy before you die. It makes your life seem a lot more cheerful.

Sophocles' most popular and shocking play is "Oedipus Rex." (You know, the show where King Oedipus unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother.) It's hard not to feel that old Oeddy got a raw deal and that the Gods punished him for an unintentional mistake.

"Antigone," on the other hand, is more about our own choices and their consequences, and not so much about the wrath of mythological powers. Also, unlike many Greek plays, the central figure is a powerful, defiant female.

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"A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry

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Lorraine Hansberry's life was regrettably brief as she passed in her mid-30s. But during her career as a playwright, she crafted an American classic: "A Raisin in the Sun."

This powerful family drama is filled with richly developed characters that make you laugh one moment, then gasp or cringe the next. When the right cast is assembled (as it was for the original 1959 Broadway cast), the audience is in for an engrossing night of brilliant acting and raw, eloquent dialogue.

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"Noises Off" by Michael Frayn

UK - Michael Frayn's

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This comedy about second-rate actors in a dysfunctional stage show is wonderfully silly. I don't think I have ever laughed harder and longer in all my life than when I watched "Noises Off" for the first time.

Not only does it induce bursts of laughter, the play also provides hysterical insights to the behind-the-scenes world of wannabe thespians, demented directors and stressed-out stagehands.

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"A Doll's House" by Henric Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen's


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George Bernard Shaw felt that Henrik Ibsen was the true genius of the theater (as opposed to that Shakespeare guy!).

"A Doll's House" remains the most frequently studied Ibsen play and with good reason. Although the play is well over a century old, the characters are still fascinating, the plot is still briskly-paced, and the themes are still ripe for analysis.

High school and college students are likely to read the play at least once in their academic careers. It's a great read, of course, but nothing compares to seeing Ibsen's play live, especially if the director has cast an incredible actress in the role of Nora Helmer.

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"Our Town" by Thorton Wilder

Paris, Texas Community Theatre production of "Our Town"

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Thorton Wilder's examination of life and death in the fictional village of Grover's Corner gets down to the bare bones of theater.

There are no sets and no backdrops, only a few props, and when it comes right down to it, there is very little plot development. The Stage Manager serves as the narrator; he controls the progression of scenes.

Yet, with all its simplicity and small-town charm, the final act is one of the more hauntingly philosophical moments to be found in American theater.

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"Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett

Sydney Theatre Company's production of Samuel Beckett's

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Highly praised by critics and scholars, Samuel Beckett's absurdist "tragicomedy" will most likely leave you scratching your head in bewilderment. But that's exactly the point!

Some plays are meant to be confounding. This tale of seemingly pointless waiting is something every theater-goer should experience at least once.

There is virtually no storyline (with the exception of two men waiting for a person who never arrives). The dialogue is vague. The characters are under-developed. However, a talented director can take this sparse show and fill the stage with silliness or symbolism, mayhem or meaning.

Quite often, the excitement isn't so much found in the script; it is beholding the cast and crew's interpretation of Beckett's words.