Excerpts from a recent piece in the Village Voice asking playwrights who the greatest living playwright is. Go read the whole thing!
Quiara Alegria Hudes
Wole Soyinka. His plays have their own cosmology—an entire universe within one piece of writing. And they’re urgent and primal and sophisticated while turning traditional notions of sophistication on their head. Death and the King’s Horseman is one of those plays I aspire to—I’ll always be chasing after it, grappling with it, trying to reach half as high.
David Henry Hwang
This is a very difficult one, but I guess I’ll vote for Tom Stoppard. I think he has maintained a high level of innovation and craft, and continues to challenge himself to this day. Over the course of his career, he has written several works that stand a good chance of passing the test of time.
Isn’t Maria Irene Fornes up there at the top of the list?! To her goes my vote.
Mac Wellman is my favorite living playwright, because each play he writes is a fantastic surprise that makes me laugh and sometimes cry, even when I have no idea why I am laughing or crying. Wellman continually makes the impossible seem quite doable: He creates theater that cannot be fully understood but can be fully felt.
Caryl Churchill: She is innovative, relevant, poetic, theatrical, and massively committed to the form. I feel most connected to theater as a calling when I see her work done well, in accordance with its own irreverent and essential nature.
Edward Albee. Since the first time, at 17, when I read The Zoo Story until today at 58, he has kept me on my toes, daring me to think outside the box or prisons we keep ourselves. In Zoo Story he made me see that God “was a woman who cried behind her locked doors.” Later on he proved to me that love can happen between any living things, including a man and a goat.
After spending a few minutes contemplating the genius of Mac Wellman, Stephen Adly Guirgis, and Caryl Churchill, I’ve decided to go out on a limb and say Erik Ehn. In pretty much every waking moment, Erik is working to evaluate and redefine what it means to be a playwright.
I’d have to say Len Jenkin (with Peter Handke a close second). Jenkin’s plays are deeper, darker, and simply better written than almost anyone else’s. He is never the pompous moralist, and he never ever takes what happens at face value. Handke is remarkable as the most inventive of theater formalists, and a political thinker of incredible depth and persistence.
Caryl Churchill: A brilliant, brave, boundary breaking writer and theatrical explorer.