The History Plays

Riots! Devils! Mopey Danes! The famous shows we're most sorry we missed.

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The Tragical History of You-Know-Who
illustration: Danny Hellman

Michael Cumpsty, actor, Richard II
What: Hamlet, the first production, 1600
Why: The most discussed play in history; why not?

Pavol Liska and Kelly Cooper, writers-directors, No Dice
What: The Secret of Rented Island, by Jack Smith, 1976
Why: Jack Smith was an underground film and theater maker who has famously inspired everyone from Foreman to Wilson to Andy Warhol. This was his version of Ibsen's Ghosts ?—with Jack Smith as Oswald, and the rest of the characters played by various props.

Tanya Barfield, playwright, Blue Door
What: A Raisin in the Sun, Broadway, 1959
Why: The play was ahead of its time, the first play by an African-American woman to run on Broadway. It's a play about both despair and hope. I think Mrs. Younger's "When do you think is the time to love somebody the most . . . " is one of the greatest monologues of American drama ever written.

Kip Fagan, director,Nelson
What: The Bedbug, by Mayakovsky, directed by Meyerhold, with music by Shostakovich, 1929
Why: It was the last great production of the Soviet period—a year later Mayakovsky killed himself, and in short order Shostakovich's music was officially denounced and Meyerhold was executed by Stalin.

Julia Cho, playwright,Durango
What: Angels in America, Broadway, 1993
Why: I was in college at the time and a friend invited me to come with her to see it. It would have entailed a five-hour bus trip there and back and finding some kind of housing. I turned it down. I didn't realize then how ephemeral theater is, and that a world premiere truly is a once-in-a-lifetime event. It still fills me with regret.

Hal Brooks, director, No Child
What: Hedda Gabler, directed by Ivo van Hove at New York Theatre Workshop, 2004
Why: I cannot tell you how often I have heard people exclaim about how great it was—how amazing Liz Marvel was or how disgusting the V-8 moment was. A defining moment of Off-Broadway theater, of how life can be breathed into the classics. Where was I?

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