Enough discussion of an artform eventually will produce a shameful admission that one has not seen, read or heard a work that is considered central to the canon.
The loquacious cineaste will admit to having never seen Citizen Kane or The Passion of Joan of Arc. The witty MA of English will cop to never having cracked the spine on Moby Dick.
Of course, nobody can see or read everything. Harold Bloom said, "we may read for pleasure, we may read for enlightenment, but, in the end, we all read against the clock."
We now have the "1001 Must-See-Before-You-Die" series of books, which are as unhelpful as they are inclusive. 1001 is quite a number, even when talking about movies; one movie a week from the list, at an average of two hours, will start to push you out 20 years. (And people made fun of Adler's 10 Year Reading Plan!) I can't imagine the gargantuan task of actually seeing even a fraction of the world's greatest paintings or buildings. In fact, these challenges have spawned a spin-off cottage industry: books about attempts to experience everything on a list or to conquer a literary work that is regularly read by millions. Thus we are inundated with stories about middlebrow Ivy League grads actually (deep gasp of awe) reading the whole Bible! Or (drumroll) attempting to read Proust!
Nature being what it is, the lists continue to grow as we progress.
Theatre has always presented a unique challenge for its audience. The texts of most classics are readily available, but actual productions of famous or central works can be limited. For instance, somebody can read Lope de Vega's Fuenteovejuna in junior high school Spanish class, but never have an opportunity to see a local production.
Last year, I published a list of upcoming productions of works that would be considered canonical if not seminal or essential to theatre.
I thought I would repeat the excercise. By nature, the making of lists is an argument waiting to happen, but I feel confident that this list provides a good start for any theatregoer hoping to make penance for a shameful admission.
Now, you may have seen all of these plays before, and if that is the case, this is not a list for you, except for you to suggest others or debate my choices. I have tried to include most of what would be considered masterpieces or important works of the theatre that are available for you to see locally, or least a couple of hours away. Please note, I have excluded Shakespeare only because the Bard's works go without saying.
The list is in chronological order of production dates:
September: The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen at Yale Repertory Theatre
September: You Can’t Take It With You by Kaufmann and Hart at The Footlight Club
September: Fences by August Wilson at Huntington Theatre Company
September: Kiss Me Kate by Cole Porter at Lyric Stage Company
September: Cabaret by Kander and Ebb at Trinity Rep
October: Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim at Metro Stage Company
October: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee at The Publick Theatre, BCA
October: Speed-the-Plow by David Mamet New Repertory Theatre
October: The Caretaker by Harold Pinter at Nora Theatre Company
October: Our Town by Thornton Wilder at Arlington Friends of the Drama
January: Gatz at American Repertory Theatre
January: All My Sons by Arthur Miller at Huntington Theatre Company
January: 4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane at the Gamm Theatre, Providence
February: One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace at Whistler in the Dark
March: The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldini at Yale Repertory Theatre
March: Master Harold...and the boys by Athol Fugard at Portland Stage Company
March: The Adding Machine a musical based on the play by Elmer Rice at Speakeasy Stage Company
March: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams at The Gamm Theatre, Providence
April: My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe at Stoneham Theatre
May: Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward at Lyric Stage Company
May: Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen at Vokes Players
This is as much as I could gather from looking at the seasons of many of the theatre companies in the area. Please use the comments for any suggestions.
The first thing I notice is that most of the works fall into the Modern or even Contemporary end of what might be considered a the "canon." Sophocles and company are out. And Shakespeare's contemporaries have gone missing. (Last year we had Webster at Actor's Shakespeare) Absurdist or experimental masterpieces are also noticeably gone. No Ionesco, Pirandello, Albee or Beckett? (Update, The Publick will be doing Virginia Woolf in October.) And, as I suspected, it is intensely Western in its focus.
There were some close calls this year. Mister Roberts is rarely performed anymore and it is at the New Rep this year. Also, the famous thriller Gaslight! will be at Stoneham in the Spring. I even debated adding The Odd Couple at Trinity Repertory. Is Speed-the-Plow important or major enough?
Two interesting shows that I included are Gatz and The Adding Machine. The production of Gatz at the American Repertory Theatre centers around a reading of the complete, entire text of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. While not a play per se, it couldn't hurt to hear such a fantasic piece of literature read aloud. (Though Andy Kaufmann beat them to it by a number of years.) And, if I remember correctly, the story did begin to form in Fitzgerald's mind as a play.
The Adding Machine at Speakeasy Stage is a new musical version of Elmer Rice's famous play. I have not seen this version, but I am told it contains much of the original, so I thought I would throw it on the list.
There is absolutely no risk in my making this list. I am hardly going out on a limb with any of these.
Feel free to suggest, correct, or add to this list. I readily admit that I haven't scoured every inch of the upcoming season. However, just remember that I am talking about productions in the Boston region, within reasonable driving distance -couple of hours at most.