The 50 Greatest Plays Of All Time Updated 2024

greatest plays of all time

Plays bring together actors, directors, writers, and designers, all working together to create a truly memorable experience. The stage is a magical place where anything can happen, and where time stands still as the audience is drawn into the world of the play. Whether it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy or a thought-provoking drama, a play has the ability to move us, to make us feel, and to stay with us long after the curtains have closed.

The beauty of plays is that they are enjoyed by people of all ages. There is something for everyone, whether you’re a fan of musicals, Shakespeare, or cutting-edge experimental works. Plays offer a unique and intimate experience, allowing the audience to connect with the actors in a way that is simply not possible with any other form of entertainment. Whether you are a fan of dramatic plays, comedic plays or classic plays this list has something for everyone.

A timeless art, Plays and playwriting have stood the test of time. They offer a way for us to escape our daily lives, to reflect on the human experience, and to connect with each other in a meaningful way. So, whether you’re a seasoned theater-goer or a newcomer to the world of plays, it’s time to experience the magic of the stage for yourself. Here is our new updated list of the greatest plays of all time!

Dramatic Plays

Mary Tyrone - Long Days Journey Into Night

Long Days Journey Into Night – Eugene O’Neill

Widely considered to be magnum opus and one of the finest American plays of the 20th century, Long Days Journey Into Night by Euegene Oneill should be on everyones greatest plays list. It Premiered on Broadway in November 1956 going on to win the Tony award for Best Play. This four act play takes place over a 24 hour period and centers around the life of the Tyrone family. The play is autobiographical and the setting is O’neill’s seaside home in conecticut. The four main characters are O’Neill himself, his older brother, and his parents.

Read more about Eugene O’Neill

More Eugene O’Neill Plays

A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams

A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1947 play written by American playwright Tennessee Williams that received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948. The play opened on Broadway on December 3, 1947, and closed on December 17, 1949, after 440 performances. The Broadway production was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Jessica Tandy, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. Tandy won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance of Blanche DuBois. She’s a fiercely proud, brutally honest woman who wears her heart on her sleeve, even when it gets her into trouble. 

Read More About Tennessee Williams

death of a salesman

Death Of A Salesman – Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play by American playwright Arthur Miller. It opened on Broadway in 1949, winning both the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest plays of 20th-century American theatre. The protagonist Willy Loman, wants to be an important man, believing he will be remembered as a “great” man when he has died (hence the title). Willy thinks that he can be great if he makes enough money. For him money means security and success; however all his life he was unable to find his niche

Read More About Arthur Miller

More Arthur Miller Plays

awake and sing

Awake And Sing – Clifford Odets

Awake and Sing! is a 1935 play by Clifford Odetts about a family of Jewish immigrants in New York City during the Great Depression. The Broadway production ran for 524 performances until 1938 and starred Luther Adler and Frances Farmer. A play of the thirties, Awake and Sing was Clifford Odets’ first major success and it remains one of his most popular works. The action unfolds in a New York tenement apartment as a family waits for the unmarried son to come home from selling insurance. By turns humorous and tragic, this searing story about the struggles of Jewish immigrants in America during the Depression era made an immediate impact on audiences and critics alike.

Classic Plays

king lear

King Lear – William Shakespeare

A play about tragedy by Shakespeare based on the mythological Leir of Britain. King Lear divides his kingdom between his two daughters who flatter him and banishes the third one who loves him. His eldest daughters both then reject him at their homes, so Lear goes mad and wanders through a storm. His banished daughter returns with an army, but they lose the battle and Lear, all his daughters and more, die.

Read More About William Shakespeare

tartuffe moliere

Tartuffe – Moliere

A comedic play by Molière, first performed in 1664. The plot of the play involves a French gentleman (Vincent) who falls in love with a pious young woman and conspires with her father to trick her into marrying him by disguising himself as a devout Catholic while courting her. This is difficult to pull off because his son Cléante has also fallen in love with a young lady of the same class who is clearly not as devout as he pretends to be. Tartuffe seems like the perfect match for Orgon since he pretends to be devoutly religious, yet secretly leads a profligate life with other women on the side. However, it turns out that Tartuffe is really more interested in gaining power over Orgon and manipulating his family members for personal gain than he is about Orgon’s material possessions or piousness. When Orgon’s daughter falls ill after being kissed by Tartuffe, Orgon has him thrown out of

the seagull

The Seagull – Anton Chekov

Written in 1895 by Anton Chekov The Seagull is considered to be the first of his four major plays. This play has a wonderful group of diverse characters which Chekvov uses to tell a tale of love and conflict. The play takes place on a Russian estate where Konstantine is getting ready for the first performace of his play. The guest of honor, his Actress mother Arkadina whom Konstantine believes thinks he’s a failure. The main characters, are Arkadina, a middle-aged actress; her lover, Trigorin, a successful writer; her son Konstantin, a writer; and Nina, a young aspiring actress whom Konstantin loves.

the best plays of all time

Hedda Gabler – Henrik Ibsen

Ibsen’s most famous play, which also gave him the nickname ‘the father of modern drama’, is a story of passion and its consequences. A young woman Hedda is the daughter of a general who is in an unhappy marriage with Tesman who she deems to be inadequate. Considered to be one of the greatest dramatic roles in theater, Hedda Gabler is referred to as the female Hamlet. Hedda Gabler premiered in 1891 in Munich

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde

A play by Oscar Wilde is a comedy of identity deception that was first performed in 1895 at the St James Theater in London. The protagonists Jack and Algernon get caught in a web of lies after pretending to be not who they said they were. Jack, a major landowner has for years petended to have a irresposible brother named Ernest who connstantly needs to be bailed out of precarious situations. Ernest is just an alibi that Jack uses to leave town and indulge in his vices. 

Classic PLays

Saint Joan – George Bernard Shaw

Joan has led France to victory over the English. Achieved through intelligence, leadership and supernatural guidance. She is ultimately captured and given to the English who try her for heresy and end up burning her at the stake. 

Classic plays

Miss Julie – August Strindberg

August Strindberg set this amazing commentary on class and love in the kitchen of a manor owned by the rambunctious Miss Julie’s father. As she tempts and teases a valet named Jean, we watch the two sparring back and forth as she challenges and he tries to keep within the bounds of a constantly changing relationship. All while his hard working fiancés drifts in and out of sleep.

Famous theatre plays

Medea – Euripides

Hell, hath no fury like a woman scorned. This is demonstrated to the Ent degree in this classic Greek tragedy. Medea, having been pushed aside by her husband Jason, she struggles to reconcile her hurt and her thirst for revenge. Ultimately, she chooses revenge as she slaughters her own children then murders her ex-husbands new beau. Classic Greek theater.

Contemporary Plays

a raisin in the sunn

A Raisin In The Sun – Lorraine Hansberry

Raisin in the Sun is a play written by American author Lorraine Hansberry. The title is based on a song of the same name, though the melody no longer has lyrics. It was awarded the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play and has become seen as a classic of African-American literature. First staged in 1959, the play is widely regarded as one of the greatest 20th century works about African-American life. A Raisin in the Sun is a complex, thought-provoking play that examines the life of an African-American family in Chicago in 1959. While it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, those who enjoy a good play that deals with serious social issues should find this very rewarding.

waiting for godot

Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot (1953) is a play by Samuel Beckett about two men, Vladimir and Estragon, waiting for the arrival of someone named Godot. They are joined by a boy who tells them about the tree he has been tending. When that gets boring, he leaves. The senselessness of waiting for something to happen is seen in the way the boys pass time by doing things that have no purpose or even meaning—like picking up the same old branch or talking about nothing at all

edward albee who's afraid of virginia woolf

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Edward Albee

Waiting for Godot (1953) is a play by Samuel Beckett about two men, Vladimir and Estragon, waiting for the arrival of someone named Godot. They are joined by a boy who tells them about the tree he has been tending. When that gets boring, he leaves. The senselessness of waiting for something to happen is seen in the way the boys pass time by doing things that have no purpose or even meaning—like picking up the same old branch or talking about nothing at all

greatest plays of all time

Angels in America – Tony Kushner

In his monumental play, Angels in America, Tony Kushner uses archetypal characters and symbolic images to explore the mystical aspects of the human psyche. Through an exploration of different religious, political and cultural expressions, Kushner portrays the hopes and fears of two people with AIDS, who are trying to make sense of their lives against the backdrop of a country tearing itself apart with internal conflict

best plays of all time

Disgraced – Ayad Akhtar

Disgraced is a play that caused quite a stir when it premiered on Broadway in 2013. The play was written by the Pulitzer Prize–winning Pakistani American writer Ayad Akhtar and focuses on what happens to a successful Muslim lawyer when his life is upended after a dinner party he and his wife (Emily) host in which conversations leads to somethig for more extreme. 

greatest plays of all time

Topdog/Underdog – Susan Lori Parks

This narrative of racism, cruelty and misery by Susan Lori Parks focuses on two African American brothers. Lincoln goes to stay with his brother, Booth after his wife kicks him out. Sibling conflict turns deadly in this unflinching commentary on the effects of social inequality. 

dramatic plays

Fences – August Wilson

August Wilson based this play on the life of his dad. Set in 1950’s Pittsburgh, we cover topics in this play like racial inequality, work, family and pride. It was also made into a movie starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

comedic plays

The Odd Couple – Neil Simon

This Neil Simon classic was penned in 1965. The familiar premise of 2 roommates who couldn’t be more different find their way through their own obstacles to finally become friends. One divorced, one recently separated, 2 men meet at a card game and decide to move in together. Oscar and Felix become hilariously entangled and finally become pals.

best plays

Fleabag – Phoebe Waller-Bridge

This play became a brilliant TV series starring the writer herself as the main role. A one woman show that follows a guilt ridden, self-deprecating narcissist as she bafflingly tries to find her way in her relationships to family, men, sex, work and friendships. 

dramatic plays

Sweat – Lynn Nottage

This won a Pulitzer prize for drama in 2017. Sweat analyzes race and humanity through the lens of the industrial working class of Reading, Pennsylvania. This play was first put up in 2015 at the Oregon Shakespeare festival then moved to Broadway in 2017.

Fairview play

Fairview – Jackie Sibbles Drury

A black, middle-class family are getting ready to celebrate Grandma’s birthday. Beverly the perfectionist must deal with her imperfect husband Dayton who is trying to help make sure all is in order. Beverly’s sister arrives and tries to convince her to help reason with their mother to take a gap year in school. This genre bending play will take you through the 4th wall. A very creative look at race and harmony in modern society. 

betrayal play

Betrayal – Harold Pinter

This is without a doubt one of Pinter’s best plays. Inspired by true evets that happened to the playwright. This play focuses on 2 cheating couples who are also friends. An interloping and brutally honest story of love, affairs and, obviously, betrayal.

top girls play

Top Girls – Caryl Churchill

Caryl Churchill wrote this play in 1982. This looks at women’s roles in society and what they need to endure in order to be successful. It has been referred to as ‘the most significant feminist intervention in the patriarchal drama mode.’

august osage county play

August Osage County – Tracey Letts

Tragedy can bring people together. So when a father goes missing in a small Oklahoman town, three sisters must navigate their wrathful, pill popping mother and their own secrets and hard truths in this raw, gritty take on the dark side of the ‘picture perfect’ all American family.

glengarry glen ross

Glengary Glen Ross – David Mamet

Mamet wowed audiences with sharp and biting dialogue in this genre defining play. A group of desperate and disgruntled salesmen fight for their very survival in this classic piece. We watch them attack, negotiate, intimidate and reason with the unreasonable. It was made into a film starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon and Ed Harris.

brilliant traces play

Brilliant Traces – Cindy Lou Johnson

Two wounded souls are brought together by chance… and a car that drove her from Arizona to Alaska in a blizzard. Rosannah bursts into the cabin dressed for her wedding while Henry Harry is forced to contend with her and his life in general. Strangers left alone in a small, secluded space must face their demons through each other. Dealing with past pain will allow them to be united in the present. But will they find their way there together in the end?

Doubt a parable play

Doubt:  A Parable – John Patrick Shanley

Father Flynn stands accused. Sister Aloysius, the principal, is sure of his guilt. Improper relations to young boys are questioned in this incredible parable that became a film starring Meryl Streep and the late Philip Seymore Hoffman.

Read More About John Patrick Shanley

More John Patrick Shanley Plays

between riverside and crazy

Between Riverside and Crazy – Stephen Adley Guirgis

A blazing commentary on life in the big city. Walter “Pops” Washington must deal with his landlord and his church. An ex-cop and widower, Pops tries desperately to hang onto his rent stabilized apartment while dealing with his recently released son Jr and other sketchy house guests in this Pulitzer prize winning play.

More Stephen Adley Guirgis Plays

famous theatre plays

Eurydice – Sarah Ruhl

Eurydice is a retelling of Orpheus & Eurydice, but through the vantage point of Eurydice. Misadventure sends her to the underworld where she joins up with her father and battles to remember her lost love. A refreshing look at a ageless love story.

god of carnage

God Of Carnage -Yesmina Reza

A school yard, two 11-year-old boys have and an altercation. Now four parents must resolve the matter. What begins as a polite and diplomatic venture, descends into something a little less ‘nice’. Tensions build, drinks are imbibed, and the truth comes out. 

Pipeline play

Pipeline – Dominique Morrisea

An inner-city schoolteacher, Nya, who is devoted to her pupils is desperate to give her son, Omari, opportunities she never had. An incident throws everything into question at his boarding school and expulsion is potentially the consequence. The main conflict is Nya and Omari’s disagreement on whether or not it is acceptable for a student to opt out of participating in classroom discussions.

Private Lives play

Private Lives – Noel Coward

They were once married. Now they happen to meet in a hotel while they are on their honeymoon with their new significant others. Elyot and Amanda impulsively decide to rekindle the old spark and soon are reminded of what put it out in the first place. This classic Noel Coward play is a beautiful tapestry of passion, love, anger and romance.

true west play

True West – Sam Shepard

Set in their mothers kitchen, in a home east of Los Angles, brothers, Austin and Lee allow us to examine their relationship. While mother is away in Alaska and Austin is trying to finish a screenplay he’s getting ready to pitch, he must deal with his bully of a brother Lee, who wants to stay in the house and also borrow his brothers car. Sibling rivalry turns to envy and asks what it would have been like to be in the others shoes.

British plays

My Zinc Bed – David Hare

In one of David Hare’s best known works, a committed AA adherent, Paul Peplow interviews a thriving yet reclusive business man, Victor Quinn. Victor, however, seems to know a lot more than he lets on as he also tries to navigate Paul’s wife, Elsa. A surreal look at addiction, alcoholism, temptation and recovery.

contemporary plays

The Wolves – Sarah Delappe

Big topics like liberty and the pursuit of happiness are tackled in this play surrounding a team of suburban indoor soccer players. They battle and challenge each other as they stretch in a circle, warming up for a game. They steer through big questions and wage little conflicts as they dodge and tackle. 

look back in anger play

Look Back In Anger – John Osborn

In this seminal work from the then 23 year old John Osborn, he captures the internal monologue of the times in this classic English piece. We follow Jimmy Porter as he harangues and reasons at his wife, Alison, who absorbs his onslaught and seeks some kind of comfort in their friends Cliff and Helena.

best plays of all time

Cock – Mike Bartlett

Plays with no props or set means that the dialogue better be captivating. Well in this case it is. This sharp and biting comedy address identity, sexuality and what happens when you’re trying to figure out where you are on the sexual spectrum and in your relationships. Or in the case of John, which one out of the two?

greatest plays of all time

Lungs – Duncan Macmillan

Another play with no props or set. In this family drama, we follow a couple on their journey as they grapple with change, hope and betrayal. Thinking about having a child in the world today in it’s current state is also addressed in this smart and funny piece that won the 2013 Best New Play award at the Off West End Awards.


The Pillowman – Martin Mcdonagh

A writer in a totalitarian state who is suspected of a series of gruesome murders that resemble the killings described in his stories is being interrogated. His simpleton brother is in the other room also being questioned. But who would do such a thing? In this blazingly, witty and intense whodunit, nothing is as it seems. 

proof play

Proof – David Auburn

A young woman who has spent years looking after her brilliant, degenerating, mathematician father must finally deal with herself after his passing. She is also met with an aspiring young Mathematician superfan of her fathers while navigating her high strung, estranged sister Claire. Over an emotionally erratic weekend, Catherine must face the potential of a budding romance while asking the question; Was dad a genius or crazy?

dramatic plays

Amadeus – Peter Schaffer

Antonio Salieri is a celebrated composer on top of his game… or so it seems until a rambunctious, loudmouthed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart comes along. Salieri asked God for talent. Mozart was born with a gift. Jealousy, faith, talent versus hard work all get challenged in this timeless masterpiece from Peter Shaffer.

beyond therapy play

Beyond Therapy – Christopher Durang

Two people looking for love in Manhattan. One is told to place an ad in the paper by their therapist. The other told to answer it by her therapist. This hilarious comedy puts love, humor, neurosis, jealousy and well intentioned therapists into a tailspin in a play that has been making audiences laugh since the 1980’s.

indecent play

Indecent – Paula Vogel

A Pulitzer Prize winning play inspired by true events. Indecent looks at the duality of pride and shame in the Jewish community after the 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance. Some said it was inspiring and some said it was blasphemous. This play follows the history of the brave actors who risked their careers and lives to put it on.

water by the spoonful

Water by the Spoonful – Quiara Alegria Hudes

A soldier returns from the war and fights to put aside the demons that trouble him. His mother, a recovering addict, battles her own torments. The boundaries of family and friendship are strained across time and cyberspace.

greatest plays of all time

Rabbit Hole – David Lindsay-Abaire

The tragedy of losing a child and how to deal with the vacuous aftermath is explored in Rabbit Hole. A seemingly normal suburban family’s life is shattered and we watch as they search for reason, forgiveness and revenge in this heartbreaking play.

best plays of all time

Fefu and Her Friends – Maria Irene Fornez

This play is divided into 3 parts; Set in the living room of Stephany Beckman (Fefu). Christina and Cindy are bewildered when Fefu shoots her husband with a rifle. Although Fefu insists this is all a game and the rifle was loaded with blanks. The play looks at gender roles and questions the way in which women support and injure each other and how they can create a community together. 

best plays of all time

Marisol – Jose Rivera

In this play, Marisol, a Bronx native, finds herself immersed in a swirl of homelessness, violence and racism when she is abandoned by her guardian angel and she’s left alone to battle the apocalypse. A chaotically, cosmic, comedy looking themes of urban life and guardian angels.

Dutchman play

Dutchman – Amiri Baraka

This Obie award winning play which was also made into a film presents the audience with a confronting illustration of the tension between blacks and whites in America. First produced in New York in 1964, this play involves Clay, a young, middle class black man who is seductively provoked by a white subway passenger named Lula. 

Plays Frequently Asked Questions

A play is a form of storytelling in which a script is performed live on stage by actors, with dialogue and actions that are performed in front of an audience.

There are several different types of plays, including comedies, tragedies, dramas, and musicals. These can further be classified into genres such as contemporary, historical, fantasy, and experimental.

Plays are scripts that are performed live on stage, while a screenplay is a script intended for a film or television production. They have different format and structure. Screenplays include specific camera angle, shot and cuts direction while plays have stage direction and blocking.

Plays are produced by a theater company or producer, who is responsible for funding the production, assembling the creative team (director, actors, designers), rehearsing and finally staging the performance. The process can range from months to a year.

The director is responsible for interpreting the playwright’s script, and bringing it to life on stage. The director works with the actors and creative team to create the staging, blocking, and overall vision for the production.

To see plays, you can purchase tickets for a production at a local theater, or at a theater company website. Many theaters and drama schools also offer student discounts or rush tickets, and some plays are also streaming online.

We hope you enjoyed our list of plays. Please leave a comment to let you know what you thought about it!