Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Plays by Women

The Early Twenty-First Century
Penny Farfan and Lesley Ferris, Editors
Explores how women playwrights illuminate the contemporary world and contribute to its reshaping


This book foregrounds some of the ways in which women playwrights from across a range of contexts and working in a variety of forms and styles are illuminating the contemporary world while also contributing to its reshaping as they reflect, rethink, and reimagine it through their work for the stage. The book is framed by a substantial introduction that sets forth the critical vision and structure of the book as a whole, and an afterword that points toward emerging currents in and expansions of the contemporary field of playwriting by women on the cusp of the third decade of the twenty-first century. Within this frame, the twenty-eight chapters that form the main body of the book, each focusing on a single play of critical significance, together constitute a multi-faceted, inevitably partial, yet nonetheless integral picture of the work of women playwrights since 2000 as they engage with some of the most pressing issues of our time. Some of these issues include the continuing oppression of and violence against women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and ethnic minorities; the ongoing processes of decolonization; the consequences of neoliberal capitalism; the devastation and enduring trauma of war; global migration and the refugee crisis; the turn to right-wing populism; and the impact of climate change, including environmental disaster and species extinction.

The book is structured into seven sections: Replaying the Canon; Representing Histories; Staging Lives; Re-imagining Family; Navigating Communities; Articulating Intersections; and New World Order(s). These sections group clusters of plays according to the broad critical actions they perform or, in the case of the final section, the new world orders that they capture through their stagings of the seeming impasse of the politically and environmentally catastrophic global present moment. There are many other points of resonance among and across the plays, but this seven-part structure foregrounds the broader actions that drive the plays, both in the Aristotelian dramaturgical sense and in the larger sense of the critical interventions that the plays creatively enact. In this way, the seven-part structure establishes correspondences across the great diversity of dramatic material represented in the book while at the same time identifying key methods of critical approach and areas of focus that align the book’s contributors across this diversity. The structure of the book thus parallels what the playwrights themselves are doing, but also how the contributors are approaching their work. Plays featured in the book are from Canada, Australia, South Africa, the US, the UK, France, Argentina, New Zealand, Syria, Brazil, Italy, and Austria; the playwrights include Margaret Atwood, Leah Purcell, Yaël Farber, Paula Vogel, Adrienne Kennedy, Suzan-Lori Parks, debbie tucker green, Lisa Loomer, Hélène Cixous, Anna Deavere Smith, Lola Arias, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, Marie Clements, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Alia Bano, Holly Hughes, Whiti Hereaka, Julia Cho, Liwaa Yazji, Grace Passô, Dominique Morisseau, Emma Dante, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Lynn Nottage, Elfriede Jelinek, Caryl Churchill, Colleen Murphy, and Lucy Kirkwood.

Encompassing several generations of playwrights and scholars, ranging from the most senior to mid-career to emerging voices, the book will be essential reading for established researchers, a valuable learning resource for students at all levels, and a useful and accessible guide for theatre practitioners and interested theatre-goers.

Penny Farfan is Professor of Drama at the University of Calgary.

Lesley Ferris is Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor of Theatre Emeritus at The Ohio State University.

Praise / Awards

  • “Presents an opportunity to discover twenty-first century women’s theatre through the array of ‘critical perspectives’ deployed, and to increase our appetite for greater equality, diversity, and inclusion in the plays we study and ultimately the theatre we see.”
    —Elaine Aston, Lancaster University
  • “This terrific volume is chockful of incisive critical engagement from some of our most astute feminist critics, writing about some of the world’s most innovative, observant women playwrights.  I’m impressed by the range of contents and forms these writers address, and by how these plays are forged very much for and from the urgent historical moment.”
    —Jill Dolan, Princeton University
  •  “Comprehensive and compelling . . . The contents reflect an inclusive and diverse global mix of recent dramatic/performance works by women artists, discussed by an impressive group of contributors. As such, the volume has much to offer to teachers, students, scholars, and artists alike.”
    —J. Ellen Gainor, Cornell University
  • “A valuable contribution to the field, bringing together a diversity of theatrical perspectives both creative and scholarly.”
    —Leah Lowe, Vanderbilt University
  • "Inspiring in its addressing of intersectionalities of class, race, gender and sexuality, it is equally inclusive in the range of performance types explored... An excellent collection." 
    Unfinished Histories
  • "Penny Farfan and Lesley Ferris’s new collection of essays provides a compelling and accessible picture of dramatic works written in the last two decades by women from a wide range of different contexts. The book’s twenty-eight chapters examine some of the most representative works by both experienced and emergent voices on the global scene, as each of these playwrights critically represents the many ways in which violence, oppression and segregation are embodied in a world marked by the massification of social movements advocating change, such as Black Lives Matter or Me Too."
    Theatre Research International
  • "… there is a wealth of recent playwriting by women that warrants systematic explication and high-profile scholarship.… 28 chapters on as many plays can provide rewarding insights that engender a desire for even more…. The essays are endlessly fungible for teaching purposes, inspiring many kinds of curation…. Each essay is concise (averaging eight pages) yet never breezy in tone, well-suited to assigning along with a play text…. The book is highly readable…"
  • Finalist: Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) 2022 Excellence in Editing Award

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 326pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2021
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07435-8

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  • $90.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2021
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05435-0

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  • $34.95 U.S.

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  • women playwrights; contemporary drama; dramatic literature; feminist theatre; women and theatre; dramatic theory and criticism; critical perspectives on contemporary drama; twenty-first-century drama; international women’s playwriting; dramaturgy; Replaying the Canon; Representing Histories; Staging Lives; Re-imagining Family; Navigating Communities; Articulating Intersections; New World Order(s); Margaret Atwood; Leah Purcell; Yaël Farber; Paula Vogel; Adrienne Kennedy; Suzan-Lori Parks; debbie tucker green; Lisa Loomer; Hélène Cixous; Anna Deavere Smith; Lola Arias; Lisa Kron; Jeanine Tesori; Alison Bechdel; Marie Clements; Quiara Alegría Hudes; Alia Bano; Holly Hughes; Whiti Hereaka; Julia Cho; Liwaa Yazji; Grace Passô; Dominique Morisseau; Emma Dante; Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig; Lynn Nottage; Elfriede Jelinek; Caryl Churchill; Colleen Murphy; Lucy Kirkwood