What plays should you know? That's always hard to answer. But the following two lists of "most significant plays of the Twentieth Century" can serve you as a guide of "modern plays I really must read." If you don't know these plays, they are highly recommended. All are available from Amazon and links are provided.

The First List.
The January, 1999, issue of American Theatre reports the results of the Drama League's poll of its 1,200 members of their choices of the "ten most significant plays of the century." You'll notice that Miller, Williams, and O'Neill each appear twice.

1. Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller.

2. A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams.

3. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, by Edward Albee.

4. Angels in America, by Tony Kushner.

5. Long Day's Journey Into Night, by Eugene O'Neill.

6. The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams.

7. The Crucible , by Arthur Miller.

8. The Iceman Cometh, by Eugene O'Neill.

9. Our Town , by Thornton Wilder.

10. Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett.

The Second List.
Not to be outdone in polling, the National Theatre of Great Britain asked British playwrights, actors, directors, journalists, and other theater professionals to nominate ten English-language plays of the 20th century that they considered significant. Apparently these aren't ranked in any order. It is interesting to see some overlaps with the American list--and interesting, too, to note plays that aren't on the American list. Miller again is listed twice.


Waiting for Godot , by Samuel Beckett.

Death of a Salesman , by Arthur Miller.

Look Back in Anger , by John Osborne.

Long Day's Journey Into Night, by Eugene O'Neill.

The Crucible , by Arthur Miller.

Private Lives , by Noel Coward.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard.

Angels in America , by Tony Kushner.

The Caretaker , by Harold Pinter.

1. Oklahoma!
2. A Chorus Line
3. West Side Story
4. My Fair Lady
5. Show Boat
6. Guys and Dolls
7. Cabaret
8. Gypsy
9. Fiddler on the Roof
10. Porgy and Bess

1 Waiting for Godot Samuel Beckett
2 Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller
3 A Streetcar Named Desire Tennessee Williams
4 Look Back in Anger John Osborne
5 Long Day's Journey Into Night Eugene 0'Neill
6 The Crucible Arthur Miller
7= Private Lives Noel Coward
     Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Tom Stoppard
9= Angels in America Tony Kushner
     The Caretaker Harold Pinter
11 Saved Edward Bond
12 The Homecoming Harold Pinter
13= Pygmalion George Bernard Shaw
       Racing Demon David Hare
15 Juno and the Paycock Sean O'Casey
16= Heartbreak House George Bernard Shaw
       Top Girls Caryl Churchill
18= Playboy of the Western World JM Synge
       Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Edward Albee
20 The Deep Blue Sea Terence Rattigan
21 The Birthday Party Harold Pinter
22= Arcadia Tom Stoppard
       An Inspector Calls JB Priestley
       Loot Joe Orton
       The Glass Menagerie Tennessee Williams
       The Norman Conquests Alan Ayckbourn
       Translations Brian Friel
28= Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Tennessee Williams
       The Entertainer John Osborne
       The Voysey Inheritance Harley Granville Barker
31 The Plough and the Stars Sean O'Casey
32= Glengarry Glen Ross David Mamet
        No Man's Land Harold Pinter
34= Journey's End RC Sherriff
       Saint Joan George Bernard Shaw
36= Absurd Person Singular Alan Ayckbourn
       The Browning Version Terence Rattigan
       Our Country's Good Timberlake Wertenbaker
       Road Jim Cartwright
40= Endgame Samuel Beckett
       The Iceman Cometh Eugene O'Neill
       A View from the Bridge Arthur Miller
       The Vortex Noel Coward
       The Weir Conor McPherson
45= Nicholas Nickleby David Edgar
       Peter Pan JM Barrie
       Roots Arnold Wesker
       Serjeant Musgrave's Dance John Arden
       What the Butler Saw Joe Orton
50= Betrayal Harold Pinter
       Blithe Spirit Noel Coward
       Cloud Nine Caryl Churchill
       Comedians Trevor Griffiths
       Dancing at Lughnasa Brian Friel
       The Front Page Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
       Master Harold... and the Boys Athol Fugard
       Pravda Howard Brenton and David Hare
       A Taste of Honey Shelagh Delaney
59= Closer Patrick Marber
        Entertaining Mr Sloane Joe Orton
        Jumpers Tom Stoppard
       Oh What a Lovely War Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop
       The Madness of George III Alan Bennett
       Murder In the Cathedral TS Eliot
       The Pink Room (Absolute Hell) Rodney Ackland
       Plenty David Hare
       Sizwe Bansi is Dead Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona
68= All My Sons Arthur Miller
        Equus Peter Shaffer
        Insignificance Terry Johnson
        Man and Superman George Bernard Shaw
        Oleanna David Mamet
        Royal Hunt of the Sun Peter Shaffer
        Skylight David Hare
        Waste Harley Granville Barker
         The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd DH Lawrence
77= Bedroom Farce Alan Ayckbourn
       The Faith Healer Brian Friel
       Family Reunion TS Eliot
       Forty Years On Alan Bennett
       Noises Off Michael Frayn
       Serious Money Caryl Churchill
       Time and the Conways JB Priestley
       When We Are Married JB Priestley
85= Amadeus Peter Shaffer
       The Children's Hour Lillian Hellman
       Copenhagen Michael Frayn
        The Daughter-in-Law DH Lawrence
        Dead Funny Terry Johnson
        Design for Living Noel Coward
        Good CP Taylor
        Home David Storey
        The Lady's Not for Burning Christopher Fry
        Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme Frank McGuinness
        Old Times Harold Pinter
        The Philanthropist Christopher Hampton
        Plunder Ben Travers
        Run For Your Wife Ray Cooney