For those who have like their Broadway served with a mix of current events, we celebrate the Democratic National Convention this week and the Republican Convention next week, by offering the definitive list of the ten greatest plays about politics ever written. Special thanks to the brave boys of Scout Troop 742 of Utica who discovered the authoritative list. While some of these shows are on Broadway or about to come to Broadway, all of them share a distinct insight and creative spin on the world of politics and political power. Here they are, and don’t forget to vote:
» A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt – Based on the true story of the relationship between King Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More, the upcoming Broadway production stars Frank Langella. Sir Thomas must struggle between his conscience and his powerful and tyrannical King. If this reminds you of The Tudors, you’re partially right. The stories are the similar, but the execution is quite different… no pun intended.
» Macbeth by William Shakespeare – To limit William Shakespeare to one great play about politics is ridiculous, but the list says what it says. As Patrick Stewart showed in his latest Broadway turn as Macbeth, this play continues to resonate. While Shakespeare’s cannon is filled with great political plays, Macbeth goes the furthest in showcasing the playwright’s unique ability to weave together a violent political landscape with the supernatural. Pure political ambition lives comfortably with witches, ghosts, and blood spilled by the gallons.
» Abe Lincoln In Illinois by Robert Sherwood – This Pulitzer Prize winning play takes us back to the days of Lincoln before he was Lincoln. The story traces his evolution and even incorporates some of his actual words. In 1940, reviewing the film, the New York Times’ Frank Nugent wrote “It is a grand thing when the life of a man can come down through the years as a fingerboard pointing a nation’s direction.” In 1993, Times Theatre Critic David Richards’ review of the play put it more succinctly with the headline “Lincoln As Metaphor For A Big Job Ahead.”
» Frost/Nixon by Peter Morgan – This new classic Tony Winner captures a pivotal moment in the evolution of modern politics, dramatizing the point at which the superficial celebrity media took over from the grave world of serious political discourse. With deft skill, Morgan creates a Richard Nixon and a David Frost engaged in a dance that continues to this day. Ancient politics meets modern media.
» State Of The Union by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay – This Pulitzer Prize winning play became a classic film starring Tracy and Hepburn. Written by 1946, the story follows a tycoon who decides to run for the Republican Presidential nomination. His wife decides to stand by him, even though she knows he’s having an affair. The old play may not be as dusty as you think.
» The Ruling Class by Peter Barnes - This haunting dark comedy was described as “sledgehammer satire” by Newsweek. While Barnes considered the play “Baroque comedy,” regardless of what you call it, the total effect is quite unforgettable. With raw wit and cutting satire, the play tackles the sanity of politics, and the House of Lords in Britain, and by extension all ruling political bodies everywhere.
» The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht – Like William Shakespeare, Brecht married his keen political eye with his profound sense of theatricality. Using the metaphor of gangland Chicago to attack the rise of Nazi Germany, this play remains both effective as a comedy and powerful as a dark commentary on rulers who know no boundaries. No better chronicle of the cauliflower racket has ever been written.
» Mary Stuart by Frederick Schiller – The upcoming Broadway production will star Janet McTeer, and should get quite a bit of attention. The story of Queen Elizabeth and her sister Mary Queen of Scotland captures the political consequences of family politics. Suicide, murder, treason… nobody does politics quite like those Tudors.
» 1776 by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone – This 1969 Tony Award winning musical gives us a constitutional convention that is as entertaining as it is rich with history. More than just singing C-Span set during the time of the first constitutional convention… but , come to think of it, that would be enough in and of itself. Sit down, John!
» Lysistrata by Aristophanes – A group of women deny their partners sex in an effort to end a war. Stop using sex as a weapon, or stop using weapons for sex. No matter how you arrange it, the basic premise of Aristophanes’ comedy rings loud and clear across the ages. This is one way to end a war, and bring the troops home honorably, and quite happy as well.