I think all young actors have had those moments when we’ve needed a new monologue or scene to work on in class and haven’t known where to look. We don’t often see plays at major theatre companies that are written for twenty-somethings, or when we do, they usually paint us as a stereotype or don’t allow us to explore our fears and hard truths. Well we’ve done the leg work for you and put together this list of plays, all of which feature predominantly young characters and contain a bunch of cracking roles for twenty-something actors. Read them alone or read them with friends, and find your next monologue or scene to tuck into today.
10 Fantastic Plays for Young Actors
#1 The Wolves
By Sarah DeLappe
So, technically this play is written for teenagers, but it is so very good, and with such a strong focus on its youthful characters, that I’ve popped it in anyway. Chances are you’re all too familiar with auditioning for teen roles as an actor in your 20s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re rolling your eyes as you read this. “Great, more underdeveloped characters who only care about sex, texting and high school drama.” Not this play.
The Wolves is a masterclass in writing young people well. These young women feel like high schoolers AND nuanced human beings (crazy right?), complete with intricate desires, dreams, secrets, and flaws. The play charts a soccer team’s progress through its league across six weeks of pre-game warm ups. The natural, conversational style and authentic portrayal of girls on the brink of womanhood has made the play hugely popular around the world, as well as earning it a well-deserved place on the 2017 Pulitzer shortlist for playwright Sarah Delappe.
By Jex Butterworth
This debut play from playwright-of-the-minute Jez Butterworth (Jerusalem, The Ferryman) is a dream for a university aged actors. It’s dark, wickedly funny, and brimming with tension. It’s set in a 1950s Soho night club, but feels nothing like the period pieces you’re used to. The club is run by a gang of misfits, who are riding on the coattails of their star performer Silver Johnny. That is until a rival club owner makes a play for Johnny by cutting their leader in half – cue scene with body parts sticking out of two discrete rubbish bins. With lightning fast dialogue and enough drugs to put The Wolf of Wall Street to shame, it’s an excellent playground for young male actors looking to get a bit wild on stage.
#3 Romeo and Juliet
By William Shakespeare
It’s easy to forget that many Shakespearean roles are young and dumb because they sound so very eloquent. There aren’t a lot of contemporary plays where young characters rattle off “Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!” And nowhere in the Bard’s work are they younger and dumber than in Romeo and Juliet.
You’ve probably seen the memes lampooning the play as a tale about horny teens who inadvertently kill 5 people (themselves included) trying to get their rocks off. But once again, memes don’t capture the full story. The play proper is a rousing testament to love overcoming hatred, and the power of young people wherever they are to defy long-standing prejudices. It’s chock full of great monologues for young men and women, not to mention a key canon text, so tick it off your list sooner rather than later.
#4 Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons
By Sam Steiner
There are so, so many two handers about young couples navigating modern relationships and searching for connection (others that almost cracked this list include Gruesome Playground Injuries and Constellations). But for me Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons stands out, unwieldy title and all. First produced in 2015, the play captures a relationship told non-linearly within a dystopian reality where the number of words humans can speak each day is controlled by the government. Steiner cleverly maps the breakdown of communication within one relationship alongside the actual destruction of human communication more broadly. It has a certain weird factor that always makes a script memorable for me, and the exploration of human connection becomes intrinsically more exciting when you place limits on that connection. It’s a neat thought experiment that could be gimmicky yet feels personal and considered enough to stand on its own feet.
#5 The Flick
By Annie Baker
The ingenuity of this play is how boring it should be, but Annie Baker’s beloved script works precisely because it finds the sublime within the ridiculous. Set in a suburban cinema, it is simply the story of three underpaid ushers as they clean up popcorn, talk about movies, and scim a little “dinner money” off ticket sales. Like The Wolves, the strength of this beautiful Pulitzer prize winner is the focus it places on the experiences and perspectives of its young characters, and how those experiences diverge across racial lines. The intensely personal portrayal of each character excavates a hidden kind of racism within our culture, emphasising the impact it can have and, I believe, inviting us to excavate in our own lives.
#6 Significant Other
By Joshua Harmon
Okay, so I’m a little bit biased because I’m in love with this play and am dying to play Jordan Berman… but Significant Other is one of the funniest and most heartbreaking plays I’ve ever read. Jordan Berman is a twentysomething new yorker, who is trying to navigate his way through #singlelyf and dating all while watching those around him get married. The beauty of this play is how it takes the classic gay best friend trope and puts that charatcer into the spotlight. The dialogue is natural and makes you feel as if you’re just chatting to your BFF. A must read for any twentysomething actor.
#7 Speech and Debate
By Stephen Karam
Speech and Debate takes place in Salem, Oregon and follows three teens and their attempts to expose the highschool drama teacher who preys on teenage boys. It’s a dark comedy with fantastic roles for twentysomethings. Of course hilarity ensues. It was made into a movie in 2017, though I personally feel the play is better… just saying. It explores issues around sexuality and growing up, without being preachy. Also read more of Stephen Karams work, he’s fantastic, and a playright you should definitely know.
#8 This is Our Youth
By Kenneth Lonergan
A New York City apartment, 1982, the beginning of the reagan era. It centres around the unbalanced relationship between two young men. Warren, Dennis and Jessica are entering the big scary world with only the tools they developed as teens. This play is a fantastic piece for three young adults and makes us confront ugly truths that we may not otherwise acknowledge.
#9 Out of Gas on Lovers Leap
By Mark St. Germain
Myst and Grouper, two smart upper-class teens drive to the local lookout, ‘lovers leap’, on the night of their highschool graduation. Throughout the night we watch the story unfold of two very lost young people trying to find who they are when every opinion and idea they have has been shaded by their parents. The ending is heartbreaking. If you’re anything like me, you love a moody piece, and something that lets you just cry. This is the piece for you.
#10 The Glass Menagerie
By Tennessee Williams
Ugh, words cannot even begin to describe exactly how beautiful this play is. Tennessee is a genius, duh, and this play is one of his best. If you haven’t read this… what are you doing?! Tom is stuck living a life absent of the excitement he desires, Laura is “old”, 23, and painfully shy and then there is Jim, the man of all our dreams. The scene between Laura and the Gentleman Caller (Jim) is both joyful and heartbreaking and a fantastic scene for any actor to flex their acting muscles. I could literally talk all day about The Glass Menagerie, but I won’t. If you’re looking for something to excite you about this play, you should watch whatever you can about the Broadway revival starring Zackery Quinto and Cherry Jones.