New Theater Books for Summer Reading 2019

Here are 14 new or forthcoming books about theater, listed under three general categories — Scripts and Play Anthologies; Biographies and Memoirs; Theater History, Criticism and Reference — plus a bonus of two books likely to be of interest to theatergoers, which I list under the category Theater Adjacent. Only a few of these selections are what you could call beach reads (and a couple won’t even be officially available until the Fall), but they promise to keep you engaged in the stage even when you’re nowhere near one.

Click on each title to learn more about the book, and to purchase it.

Scripts and Play Anthologies


The 2019 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this play by Jackie Sibblies Drury, which is being given a stunning encore production through July at Theatre for a New Audience, begins in what looks to be a familiar and affectionate look at a black middle class family preparing for Grandma’s birthday dinner. But it takes some surprising, surreal and brutal turns. By the end of the play, it seems clear the playwright has been examining what many have come to call the white gaze.

The Inheritance

A generation after the height of the AIDS crisis, what is it like to be a young gay man in New York? How many words are there now for the different kinds of pain, the different kinds of love? Matthew Lopez’s play premiered in two parts in London in 2018 and is coming to Broadway in the Fall.

White Noise

In this latest play by Suzan-Lori Parks, which ran at the Public Theater in the Spring (my review), Leo, a black man traumatized by a police confrontation, has a proposition for his best friend Ralph, who is white: Leo asks to become Ralph’s slave. If Parks’ conceit is fanciful, the play is predominantly neither farcical nor fierce. It’s illuminating.  White Noise dips deep into the racial divide in America.

Publication date is in August.

What the Constitution Means to Me

When she was fifteen years old, Heidi Schreck earned money for her college tuition by giving speeches about the U.S. Constitution. Decades later, she traces the effect this document has had on four generations of women in her family. This play (as I pointed out in my review) is a civics lesson that’s stimulated an extraordinary response. Introduced at a theater festival in 2017, it moved to Off-Broadway for a limited run (extended several times.) It is now on Broadway through August 24th.

Several critics have called it the best and most important play of the season. Playwright Tony Kushner saw it three times, and found it “shamanistic, medicinal, restorative…every time I went back, I left feeling more hope about the survival of our democracy.”

Publication date is not until October. (so, not really a summer read.)

Ironbound and Other Plays

Three plays by playwright Martyna Majok, two of which have been presented Off-Broadway (both of which I reviewed — queens, and Ironbound) and the third, Sanctuary City, promised this coming season at New York Theatre Workshop. Majok won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Cost of Living, which is available separately.

Publication date is in August.


American Political Plays in the Age of Terrorism

An anthology of plays that includes Break of Noon by Neil LaBute, 7/11 by Kia Corthron, Omnium Gatherum by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, Columbinus by PJ Paparelli and Stephen Karam, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them by Christopher Durang.

Biographies and Memoirs

Too Much Is Not Enough: A Memoir of Fumbling Toward Adulthood

Coming-of-age memoir by Broadway veteran and Nebraska-born Andrew Rannells (The Book of Mormon, Boys in the Band etc.) that recounts  failed auditions, behind-the-curtain romances, the heartbreak of losing his father at the height of his struggle, and the exhilaration of making his Broadway debut in Hairspray at the age of twenty-six.

They Made Us Happy

Author Andy Propst looks at the longest-running partnership in theatrical history,  Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who wrote the books and/or lyrics for 18 stage musicals including On the Town and Wonderful Town, and nine screenplays, including for the movie musicals Singin’ in the Rain and The Band Wagon.

Getting Off: Lee Breuer on Performance

A look at the life and work of this seminal avant-garde theater artist, co-founder of Mabou Mines, assembled by author Stephen Nunns via interviews and excerpts from Breuer’s own writing.

It’s Always Loud in the Balcony

A memoir by playwright, screenwriter and NYU professor Richard Wesley, who also traces the history of black theater from the Black Theater Movement of the 1960s.

Publication date in September.

Theater History, Criticism and Reference

Ensemble: An Oral History of Chicago Theater

Drawing from more than 300 interviews, author Mark Larson looks at the history of Chicago theater through its “ensemble ethos.”

Publication date in August.

Mitchell and Trask’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch

In this latest in The Fourth Wall series of short books that explore major works of theater, prolific playwright and author Caridad Svich examines the musical by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask through the lenses of visual and vocal rock ’n’ roll performance, the history of the American musical, and its positioning within LGBTIQ+ theater

The Oxford Handbook of Musical Theatre Screen Adaptations (Oxford Handbooks)
A series of essays over 689 pages that cover the earliest adaptations from operettas, to Annie and Kiss Me, Kate but also some of the lesser-known titles like Li’l Abner and Roberta and problematic adaptations such as Carousel and Paint Your Wagon.

The 100 Most Important People in Musical Theatre
The second book on this list by prolific theater writer Andy Propst, this collection of profiles goes alphabetically, from George Abbott to Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and includes some next-generation living legends like Audra McDonald and Lin-Manuel Miranda.


Theater Adjacent

Be More Chill (Broadway Tie-In)

It’s a revelation to read this novel by Ned Vizzini from which the (very different) musical was adapted.

Drag: Combing Through the Big Wigs of Show Business

There are several chapters devoted to theater and theater artists (where several of my reviews and critical essays are quoted!)

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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