Reimagining the Classics

By Zackary Ross | I often tell my students that the greatest gift a playwright gives an actor is a pause written into the stage directions. A pause offers actors a moment to reflect on what has led them to this point in the play and to envision where they want to go next. A pause is a new beginning, a moment of new potential. In light of the extended coronavirus shutdowns, I can’t help but feel that the theatre world now exists in one such moment as we collectively hold our breath, think about what has been lost, and look forward to what will come next.

During this hiatus, I’ve sought comfort in rereading some of my favorite plays, in addition to a handful of scripts I discovered that reinvent the classics of our past. What follows is a collection of plays that breathe surprising new life into timeless favorites. To develop this list, I surveyed major play publishers’ offerings during recent months. Following each description, you’ll find information about the cast breakdown and a referral to the publisher who holds the rights.

 

A Doctor in Spite of Himself, by Molière, adapted by Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp

In this update of Molière’s classic comedy, live music and a Punch-and-Judy-style puppet show punctuate the story of a young woman scheming to avoid the marriage her father wants for her. When her parents mistake a drunken woodcutter for a renowned doctor, they enlist his help to cure the mysterious illness she is feigning.

Cast breakdown: 3 females; 7 males (any ethnicity); possibility of doubling
Publisher: Broadway Play Publishing

 

American Moor, by Keith Hamilton Cobb

In this poignant two-hander, an experienced Black actor auditioning for the role of Shakespeare’s Othello is met with conflict from the young white director who presumes to instruct him on capturing the soul of the character. Using Shakespeare’s character as a metaphor, the play examines the experience of Black men in America, engaging in complex discussions on the topics of race, privilege and contemporary attitudes toward the great bard.

Cast breakdown: 2 males (1 Black/African descent, 1 white/European descent)
Publisher: Dramatists Play Service, Inc.

 

Dreamland, by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen

Inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this musical comedy imagines the action set against the declassification of Area 51 as a class of high school students takes over the top-secret base for a few days. Love triangles, alien abductions and even a performance by the school’s show choir appear in this imaginative send-up of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy.

Cast breakdown: 2 females; 1 male
Publisher: Concord Theatricals

 

Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, by Taylor Mac

In the aftermath of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Gary – a clown who was supposed to be hanged at the end of the original text – is instead tasked with cleaning up the corpses that litter the stage. He is aided by Janice, a maid with lots of experience cleaning up massacres. The play celebrates the oft-forgotten disposable characters that frequently appear on the margins of Shakespeare’s tales and lampoons the increasingly hostile nature of modern politics.

Cast breakdown: 4 females (any ethnicity); 1 male (any ethnicity); 1 child (any gender/ethnicity)
Publisher: Dramatists Play Service, Inc.

 

Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow, by Halley Feiffer

In this black comedy, the plot and context of Chekhov’s Three Sisters is retained but reimagined with a contemporary twist. The eponymous three sisters of the original – Olga, Masha and Irina – wallow in boredom in provincial Russia, longing to return to the exciting hustle-bustle of Moscow. The language and characters come alive like never before in this millennial-inspired take on a classic.

Cast breakdown: 5 females; 7 males (any ethnicity)
Publisher: Dramatists Play Service, Inc.

 


This article originally appeared in Southern Theatre, The Magazine of the Southeastern Theatre Conference
Volume LXII Number 1, Winter 2021



Written by Zackary Ross
Zackary Ross is an assistant professor of theatre and the arts administration program director at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY. He is a member of the Southern Theatre Editorial Board.

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