The Methuen Drama Book of New American Plays
Edited by Sarah Benson
Stunning by David Adjmi
The play that opens the volume really lives up to its name. It is easy to understand why David Adjmi's play, developed at New York Theatre Workshop and Manhattan Theatre Club, was not only a hit first time around but then managed to transfer to the studio theatre at Lincoln Center.
Stunning contrast two very different lifestyles for the most part from a luxury home in Brooklyn.
Middle-aged Ike and 16-year-old Lily have just got married and life seems good thanks to Ike's well-paid job with Lily's brother-in-law.
To make things easier, the Orthodox Jewish couple hire a black live-in maid, Blanche.
In no time, she changes the balance of the marriage, introducing Lily to the kind of education that would normally only be available in a university. The mystery in the play as to why Blanche is cleaning rather than lecturing is only revealed in the final scenes.
Before then, there are many thrills and spills in a work that reads wonderfully and must surely be produced over here before too long.
The Road Weeps, The Well Runs Dry by Marcus Gardley
The second play in the collection is located in the Wild West, dividing its time between the years 1850 and 1866 on either side of the American Civil War.
It can take time to tune into The Road Weeps, The Well Runs Dry due to the rather eccentric nature of its subject matter, following a group of warring individuals in a close-knit community that is divided by a Romeo and Juliet-style story.
Blood feuds last for generations in this Native American / black enclave of Seminole Indians but thanks to poetic language and a great sense of humour, Marcus Gardley has written what seems like an unstagable play that would be well worth watching if it could be.
Pullman WA by Young Jean Lee
Pullman WA is a much shorter piece than the first two in the volume and is very different in style. This experimental work consists of a series of virtual monologues and brief dialogues as a young trio philosophise about life today. They also explore some rather unlikely fantasies that challenge members of the audience to overcome their preconceptions.
Hurt Village by Katori Hall
Hurt Village is a cracking play from a writer best known for The Mountaintop, which has played both in the West End and on Broadway.
This piece is gritty to say the least, looking at the lives of poor blacks in Memphis, Tennessee today.
With no money and no homes, the only ways to survive are either prostitution or drug dealing. Even joining the Army and fighting on far-flung, eastern shores fails to provide a permanent escape.
Having said that, 13-year-old Cookie, the protagonist, seems as if she might just have enough brains to escape the ghetto if she can only just make it to adult life without falling pregnant.
This play succeeds because of its dirty realism and the realistic language, which transports viewers to a place where few will ever have been and even fewer would wish to go.
Dying City by Christopher Shinn
Dying City, which is the pick of this collection, is also the only piece that has so far had a UK production. Indeed, its world première took place at the Royal Court starring the ubiquitous Andrew Scott and Sîan Brooke.
Set in New York in 2004/5, it explores the intricate relationships between therapist Kelly, her husband Craig and his twin brother Peter.
The latter pair, both twins, are like chalk and cheese, the former a Harvard graduate turned GI, and his brother a gay actor struggling to come to terms with his own identity.
Dying City switches backwards and forwards in time, in addition to focusing on these human interactions, but also branches out to look at wider political issues, including the impact of 9/11 and the War on Terror on young Americans in the Big Apple.
The Big Meal by Daniel LeFranc
The final play can be difficult to read on the page because anything up to four or five actors are expected to speak simultaneously at various points.
In simple terms, it follows the relationship of Sam and Nicole from their first meeting through to old age and beyond. Along the way, we meet his parents and the couple's children etc down the generations.
The Big Meal uses detailed observation of the minutiae of life together with pitch perfect dialogue to take its audience into the lives of a series of intrinsically mundane characters.
This episodic play makes its points by accurately pinpointing the trials and tribulations of ordinary lives, which inevitably repeat themselves across five generations rather than becoming sensationalist or creating drama for its own sake.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher