|Walnut Street Theatre,|
According to Theatre Communications Group, which includes nearly five-hundred professional, not-for-profit theaters, large and small, across the United States, the most produced play of the 2012-2013 season is Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire.
A drama peppered with biting wit, Good People is the story of an unemployed single mother from blue collar South Boston reconnecting with a high school boyfriend in the hope of finding a job. The boyfriend got out of their gritty neighborhood and is now a doctor living in an upscale suburb.
Good People ran on Broadway in the Spring of 2011 and earned a Tony Award for its star, Frances McDormand, and a Tony nomination for best play. During the 2012-2013 season, Good People has been produced at seventeen Theatre Communications Group theaters nationwide.
Gwendolyn Purdom in Washingtonian, in reviewing a Spring 2013 production at Washington, DC's Arena Stage, calls Good People an "exploration of class, fate, and perspective that is painfully funny and gut-wrenchingly real."
|Good People, Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, 2013|
(Photo by Greg Mooney)
Good People has a cast of six. The small number of performers needed to mount the play is seen as another reason -- along with engaging characters and incisive dialogue -- why Good People appeals to theater companies. "Theater professionals know all too well that few U.S. companies are willing to take a chance on large-cast plays nowadays," says Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal. "Because of the recession, regional companies have grown steadily more risk-averse, and playwrights who long to see their work performed onstage are responding accordingly by writing smaller-scaled shows." Teachout points out that the plays on the 2012-2013 most produced list call for an average of four actors a piece. Teachout adds --"[I]t's easy to forget that the latter-day dominance of the small-cast play is a fairly recent development in theatrical history. Large casts used to be the rule, not the exception."
|Tennessee Repertory Theatre,|
"Small cast plays represent the continuation of an earlier national trend that began in earnest in the second half of the 20th Century," says Jim Rutter in the Broad Street Review. "The mostly unsubsidized American theaters hesitate to risk their slender budgets on unknown playwrights. But new writers could increase the chances of seeing their plays produced by writing plays with small casts, thereby cutting down on the production’s overhead."
Lindsay-Abaire studied playwriting at Juilliard under Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang. Norman's Pulitzer Prize winning 1983 drama 'night Mother has a cast of two: a suicidal woman and her mother. Durang's absurdist comedies, including Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You and The Marriage of Bette and Boo, call for casts of ten or less.
|Westport Country Playhouse,|
By far the oldest work on the 2012-2013 most produced list is A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 drama about an African-American family's struggle to move into the middle class. It has a cast of eleven.
Sometimes a theater company will present an older play with the cast list trimmed down to the essentials and having performers take more than one part. The cast of the original 1938 Broadway production of Our Town numbered over forty. In 2013, a production of Our Town at Washington, DC's Ford's Theatre made due with a cast of twenty.
|Our Town, Ford's Theater,|
Washington, DC 2013
Rutter takes the argument against small cast plays further, declaring -- "[W]hat’s the point of creating an ostensibly communal and shared experience in front of hundreds if all a theater company intends to present is an examination of society’s most atomized relationships?...[I]f I simply wanted to watch the interaction between two people played out dramatically, I’d rather go sit in a bar and wait for a couple to get drunk and fight. At least there, I’d only pay for my drinks."
Most Produced Plays of the 2012-2013 Season*
1. Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire
2. Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris
3. The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez
4. Next to Normal by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt
5. The Mountaintop by Katori Hall
6. Red by John Logan
7. Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies (tie)
7. Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz (tie)
8. The Motherfucker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis
9. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (tie)
9. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman (tie)
*Theatre Communications Group.Plays by Shakespeare and holiday themed productions are not counted.