British Plays Are Better. There, I Said It.

I’m sorry to say that, as a British theater journalist, my first reaction to “The Great Work Continues” was a slight sense of … pity?

There’s a lot I really like in the top 10 compiled by critics for The New York Times. But the fact that I absolutely agree about the brilliance of “Mr. Burns” and “An Octoroon” and “The Flick” only convinces me that I’m not missing something about the works lower down on the full list of 25.

Most of them I know: well-crafted but unadventurous plays, several set at family dinners.

Not only are they not the equal of the best American work — “Death of a Salesman,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” or, indeed, “Angels in America” — but they don’t stand at all stand up to the best of British writing.

In the last 25 years, you see, British theater has enjoyed something of a golden age.

America never had a Sarah Kane, whose entire, harrowing career unfolded between 1995 and 2000, and left us forever scarred.

America does not have a Caryl Churchill, a totemic older playwright whose powers haven’t dimmed a jot. “A Number” and “Far Away” are almost peerless pieces of writing.

I would guess Jez Butterworth’s mad bucolic masterpiece “Jerusalem” might top a hypothetical Brit list. People who saw it still speak of the experience in hushed tones. Does anything on the American list hold the legendary status of that one production?

And that’s not to forget the entire tar-black comic oeuvre of Martin McDonagh. Or Debbie Tucker Green, or Lucy Prebble, or Mark Ravenhill, or Kwame Kwei-Armah, or Mike Bartlett, or Simon Stephens.

There’s a lot. More than 25, I’d say.

It’s heartening to see that so much of the work rated by The Times is recent. Perhaps things are looking up. But starkly laid out, to this Brit’s eyes the last 25 years of American theater looks close to a lost quarter century.

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