Twelve Plays That Transport You


I have just seen back to back productions of A Streetcar Named Desire (which is named after a trolley) and Dutchman (which is set on board a subway car).
Which of course put me on the track of other works of theater which involve trains. Special thanks to Kelly Kewin and others hovering about the Yale Cabaret table where I sat last night and got on board with this game.

During the brainstorming, we allowed plays set on cars, planes and boats into the mix for a while,. I realize now that those are lists for other times. Stay on track, people!

1. Pullman Car Hiawatha. People don’t even know what Pullman cars are anymore. New Havener Thornton Wilder, a constant traveler, sure did.
2. The Twentieth Century. The other hit by Hecht & MacArthur, of The Front Page fame. It was made into a John Barrymore movie and Comden/ Greene musical.
3. Starlight Express. Worst Andrew Lloyd Webber musical ever, which I realize is saying a lot. It’s inspired by (though not directly based on) the Thomas the Tank Engine books, with locomotives played by disco dancers on roller skates.
4. Meet me in St. Louis. Clang, clang, clang.
5. The 39 Steps. There’s a train in there.
6. Adrienne Kennedy, The Owl Answers. “The scene is a New York subway car is the Tower of London is a Harlem hotel room is St. Peter’s.”
7. The A Train Plays. Twenty-minute projects produced by Laurence Feeney, which are staged on New York’s A Train.

8. Subway Stories. I include this 1997 HBO film because it’s made up of short separate dramas whose writers are best known as playwrights: Danny Hoch, Albert Innaurato, John Guare…

9. Szalona lokomotywa by Stanislaw Witkiewicz. This helter-skelter absurdist 1923 Russian work was staged at Yale School of Drama in 1999 by Annie Dorsen. Its English title is The Crazy Locomotive, but behind the scenes Dorsen’s crew took to calling it Crazy Train, a la the Ozzie Osbourne song.

10. The Whip. This Victorian theater spectacle by Henry Hamilton and Cecil Raleigh, first staged in London in 1909, featured an onstage train crash by the brilliant designer Bruce “Sensation” Smith.

11. Brief Encounter. Originally a one-act by Noel Coward, then a full-length movie classic, then a full-length play based on the movie. More train station than train, granted, but very much a commuter-rail enviroment.

12. IRT: A Tragedy in Three Stations. Two-hour, site-specific, subway-set drama about the history of the history of the IRT system. Script is here.