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I have been into a deep reading slump for nearly a month. I tried getting back to reading, but my attention was scattered and I couldn’t focus. Today, I tried reading a play, and I’m happy to report that it finally worked. Hopefully I’m back 🙂

I discovered Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother in a literary anthology that I have. I read her potted biography at the beginning of the play and found it very fascinating. I finally got around to reading the play today.

Jessie’s mother is trying to take out a cupcake from the kitchen cabinet. She calls Jessie to ask her something. Jessie enters the room. Jessie seems to be cleaning up something elsewhere in the house. Jessie and her mother start talking. At one point Jessie asks her mother where her father’s gun was kept. Jessie’s mother tells her that it is in a box in the attic. Jessie goes and gets it. Her mother asks her why she needs the gun. Jessie tells her why. At this point, I have to stop and ponder on whether I should tell you why. I don’t want to spoil the surprise and so I won’t, and I will skirt around this. Her mother thinks that Jessie is joking, but when she realizes that Jessie is serious, she tries to talk Jessie out of it and uses every kind of stalling tactic to buy time. The rest of the play is a long conversation between Jessie and her mother. What Jessie is planning to do, and whether she succeeds in it or whether her mother succeeds in preventing her is told the rest of the story.

‘night, Mother is a play which grabs your attention from the first line of dialogue and never lets go till the end. The story is intense, the dialogue is crisp and sharp and amazing and asks all the big questions in beautiful everyday ways, and as the play hurtles towards its denouement, our heart starts beating harder. It is haunting and heartbreaking. I cried when I read the last page.

I loved ‘night, Mother”. It is a haunting book. I am so glad I discovered Marsha Norman. I haven’t heard of many women playwrights before. I haven’t read any before (except for a short 10-page play by Wendy Wasserstein). When we talk about 20th century playwrights after the Second World War, the typical names that are mentioned are Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter, Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller – all men. Women playwrights seem to be rarer than rare birds. It is odd. The reason might be that there are not many women playwrights around, or they are there, but they are not getting enough visibility. I think it is probably a combination of both, but I also feel that it is more the first than the second. If we do a simple test, we can discover this. If we pick a contemporary poetry anthology, we’ll find that half the poets featured are women. But if we pick an anthology of plays, we’ll be lucky to see even one play by a woman playwright. I don’t know why things are the way they are. But I am very happy to discover that there are amazing women playwrights out there, and Marsha Norman is among them. ‘night, Mother is one of the great plays I’ve ever read. It won the Pulitzer when it first came out, was successfully performed in Broadway, and was adapted into a movie starring Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft. I hope to watch the movie sometime. I can’t wait to read more plays by Marsha Norman.

Have you read ‘night, Mother? What do you think about it? Have you read plays by women playwrights? Who are your favourites? Please give me some recommendations.

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I read this piece recently by Teresa Preston called ‘100 Must-Read Plays Not by Shakespeare’. It made me think about the plays I have read, seen performed and watched adaptations of. I love plays but I haven’t read a lot of them. I thought that I could list them down in a page. And then I could look at the list and feel bad about it. As Woody Allen’s character says in ‘Annie Hall‘ – “I feel that life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable. These are the two categories. The horrible would be like terminal cases. And blind people. And cripples. I don’t know how they get through life. And the miserable is everyone else. So, you should be thankful that you’re miserable. You’re very lucky to be miserable.” I knew that my list of plays was going to be short and it was going to make me feel miserable. Well, I am happy to be miserable. Here is my list of plays – plays I have read, seen performed and watched film / TV adaptations of.

Plays read

(1) The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
(2) Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
(3) A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
(4) Oedipus by Sophocles
(5) The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan
(6) A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams
(7) And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
(8) The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie
(9) Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie
(10) The Robbers by Friedrich Schiller
(11) Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller
(12) Hayavadhana by Girish Karnad
(13) Nagamandala by Girish Karnad
(14) Tughlaq by Girish Karnad
(15) Muhammad bin Tughlaq by Cho Ramaswamy
(16) La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler
(17) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
(18) The Homecoming by Harold Pinter
(19) She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

Play performance watched

(1) A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Narrated / performed by my mom

(1) Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Film / TV Adaptations watched

(1) Gods of Carnage by Yasmina Reza
(2) Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire
(3) My Zinc Bed by David Hare
(4) Platonov by Anton Chekhov
(5) The Odd Couple by Neil Simon
(6) The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
(7) The Petrified Forest by Robert E. Sherwood
(8) Proof by David Auburn
(9) Alfie by Bill Naughton
(10) Hamlet by William Shakespeare
(11) The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
(12) The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
(13) The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams
(14) Closer by Patrick Marber

I think in terms of quality the list is good, actually excellent. Not very diverse, but excellent still. In terms of quantity, bad, very bad. I am not much of a theatre goer and have never been. That is not going to change much. But I hope to read more plays and watch more film / TV adaptations and improve that number above, which stands at 35 right now.

Which are my favourite plays from the above? I loved all the film / TV adaptations except for Patrick Marber’s ‘Closer‘. That one, I didn’t like much, eventhough it had Julia Roberts in it. I loved the performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. It was, interestingly, performed by an Italian theatre company. ‘Twelfth Night’ was one of our family favourites – my mom used to narrate us the story / perform some of the scenes during dinner time or during weekends when I was a kid. She was a great storyteller. Those were magical times. My mom inspired me to read. She passed on her infectious love for literature to me. I miss her so much. Out of the plays I read, I liked all of them except for the last three. Harold Pinter’s ‘The Homecoming’ was powerful, but I didn’t like it much. Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘She Stoops to Conquer‘ was disappointing.

So, do you like reading plays? Do you like watching performances in the theatre? Which are your favourite plays?

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