“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”
– Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners
“Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. [My conversation partner said] she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.” – Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being
In February 2021, I asked approximately 75 theatre artists – playwrights, producers, directors, actors, and administrators – to recommend plays and musicals which deal in an interesting way with faith, religion, and/or spirituality.
The initial criteria were that the scripts should:
- Be excellent as plays/musicals
- Engage in some way with faith, religion, and/or spirituality
- Be written or first produced in the last 10 years
There was no requirement that the writer(s) should belong to any religious tradition.
I asked participants to interpret the criteria broadly – if in doubt, put it on the list. I also asked participants to give preference to scripts that they believed deserved more productions than they got, or which were unproduced.
Based on the scripts that some participants wanted to recommend, I relaxed the timeline, allowing scripts older than 10 years so that the list would be a more complete resource of scripts for theatres to use.
Participants could nominate as many scripts as they wanted. I also allowed playwrights to submit their own scripts–again, to provide as complete a resource as possible.
I chose the name “the Flannery List” because the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor was not precious about faith, but dealt with the grittiness of actual sanctification. Faith is not a teddy bear that soothes your feelings – it’s a struggle to find and follow ultimate meaning. I wanted plays that lived in the middle of that struggle, that faced God as the center of existence, and that knew that how we think about and relate to God defines our very being. I wanted plays that, like Jacob, wrestled with the angel, and would not let go until a blessing was bestowed.
Some of the scripts exist comfortably within the world of faith, helping us see ourselves more clearly and laugh at ourselves. Some wrestle with deep questions of faith and doubts, seeking for a hard-won grace. Some violently confront religious authority and hypocrisy, and cry out their challenge to God. Some are by writers of faith, and some are not. Not every script will be suitable for every theatre, but I hope that the wide variety of scripts submitted by the nominators will enable every theatre or director to find a story that speaks to them and their audience.
The Full List, which includes all 200+ nominated scripts, exists as a live Google Sheet which is continually edited. To receive access to the list, please complete the form below. I will update this list as I receive new suggestions from readers.
The 2021 Short List, visible below, includes only scripts which were nominated by at least three separate nominators other than the writer(s). This list will be updated at least annually based on nominations from invited nominators and readers.
To submit a script, feedback, or corrections, please email email@example.com
Feel free to share this list with anyone whom you think would benefit from it.
Cole Matson, Ph.D.
2021 Flannery Short List
- The Christians by Lucas Hnath. 2015, Play, Drama, 3M 2W + choir. Twenty years ago, Pastor Paul’s church was nothing more than a modest storefront. Now he presides over a congregation of thousands, with classrooms for Sunday School, a coffee shop in the lobby, and a baptismal font as big as a swimming pool. Today should be a day of celebration. But Paul is about to preach a sermon that will shake the foundations of his church’s belief. A big-little play about faith in America—and the trouble with changing your mind. Rights: Dramatists Play Service.
- The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis. 2005, Play, Drama, 9M 5W. Set in a time-bending, darkly comic world between heaven and hell, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot reexamines the plight and fate of the New Testament’s most infamous and unexplained sinner. Rights: Dramatists Play Service.
- Espresso by Lucia Frangione. 2004, Play, Drama, 1M 1W. Sexy, provocative and challenging, Espresso is a rich, dark, bitter hit of comedy and sensuality. One of Lucia Frangione’s blasphemy plays,’ it inverts the Catholic stereotypes of feminine sexuality to boldly examine their corresponding masculine sexual emblems of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In an erotic world where men are traditionally cast as either fathers to be looked up to or sons to be looked after, where, for women, is the possibility of a flesh-and-blood lover, challenging her to open her heart without trespassing her will—a lover as he appears in the Song of Solomon: passionate, earthy, creative, vulnerable and beautiful— the avatar of the holy spirit? There has been a horrible car crash, and Vito, the patriarch of an immigrant family, has had his body smashed and his heart lacerated, his life hanging by threads of tubes and wires in an intensive care ward. His family has rushed in from all over the country for an anxious vigil of hope, prayer and memory by his bedside. In this crucible of anxiety, a single actress alternately narrates and enacts her own and her family’s history along with an uninvited narrator/actor, Amante (“lover” in Italian). As Amante engages all the women of the clan Rosa plays in a swirl of sharply portrayed characters—Vito’s mother, Nonna, forced into marriage at 13 but only now, at 67, experiencing the first intimations of her body’s desire; the pit-bull martyrdom of Vito’s second wife, Vincenza; and Rosa herself in her own thin, urbane skin stretched tight to hold in the red, passionate blood that boils just below the surface—we are never sure whether Rosa has created Amante or he has created her. Rights: Playwrights Guild of Canada.
- Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain. 2010, Play, Drama, 2M. Freud’s Last Session centers on legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud who invites the young, rising Oxford Don C.S. Lewis to his home in London. On the day England enters World War Two, Freud and Lewis clash about love, sex, the existence of God, and the meaning of life, just weeks before Freud took his own life. Freud’s Last Session is a deeply touching play filled with humor and exploring the minds, hearts and souls of two brilliant men addressing the greatest questions of all time. Rights: Dramatists Play Service.
- Jesus Hopped the “A” Train by Stephen Adly Guirgis. 2002, Play, Drama, 4M 1W. Angel Cruz is a thirty-year-old bike messenger from NYC who has lost his best friend to a religious cult. At the opening of the play, he is in his second night of incarceration, awaiting trial for shooting the leader of that cult in the “ass.” He is on his knees, alone and terrified, trying to say a prayer he no longer remembers to a God he has all but forgotten. Angel’s public defender is Mary Jane Hanrahan, still relatively young but very nearly disillusioned. At their first meeting, she mistakes Angel for another case. Wounded by her pride and Angel’s sharp attacks, she mangles this initial interview and walks out. A crisis of conscience and an unresolved connection to her childhood brings her back, and Angel’s heartfelt, persuasive arguments against the cult leader persuade her to champion his cause. By this time, the cult leader, Reverend Kim, has died on the operating table, and the charge against Angel is now murder. Angel has been beaten regularly by other inmates and is discovered in his cell barely conscious with a bed sheet tied around his neck. He is transferred to a special twenty-three-hour lockdown wing of protective custody. His jailer is Valdez, a brutally direct prison guard who believes in a world of black and white only. No gray areas permitted. Valdez has taken the post of Charlie D’Amico, a guard Angel never meets. For one hour a day, Angel experiences daylight from a cage on the Riker’s Island Prison roof. His only source of human contact is the lone inmate who is also in protective custody. Lucius Jenkins, a.k.a. “the Black Plague,” works out furiously in the cage next to Angel. A sociopathic serial killer awaiting extradition to Florida, Lucius pauses from his workouts only to chain smoke and to “save” Angel. Lucius Jenkins has found God, and Angel’s life and the course of his trial will be changed forever. Rights: Dramatists Play Service.
- Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi. 2012, Play, Comedy, 3M 2W. Wholly original, hysterically funny, and deeply moving, Kim’s Convenience tells the story of one Korean family struggling to face the future amidst the bitter memories of their past. Rights: Status unknown due to recent TV show based on the play. Script available at Amazon.
- A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt. 1960, Play, Drama, 10M 3W. This tragic historical drama offers a brilliant portrait of Sir Thomas More in his last years as Lord Chancellor of England during the reign of Henry VIII. When Henry fails to obtain papal approval for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn, he mandates his subjects to sign an “Act of Supremacy” making him both spiritual and temporal leader of England. Sir Thomas cannot in good conscience comply. Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey, his family, and the King himself are all unable to convince More otherwise, as he maintains his integrity and belief in silence. Ultimately accused of high treason, this very silence leads the man to his execution, and later his canonization in 1935. Rights: Concord Theatricals.
- The Mountaintop by Katori Hall. 2009, Play, Drama. 1M 1W. A gripping reimagination of events the night before the assassination of the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On April 3, 1968, after delivering one of his most memorable speeches, an exhausted Dr. King retires to his room at the Lorraine Motel while a storm rages outside. When a mysterious stranger arrives with some surprising news, King is forced to confront his destiny and his legacy to his people. Rights: Dramatists Play Service.
- Our Lady of Kibeho by Katori Hall. 2014, Play, Drama. 7M 8W 1 boy. In 1981, a village girl in Rwanda claims to see the Virgin Mary. She is denounced by her superiors and ostracized by her schoolmates—until impossible happenings begin to appear to all. Skepticism gives way to fear, causing upheaval in the school community and beyond. Based on real events, Our Lady of Kibeho is an exploration of faith, doubt, and the power and consequences of both. Rights: Dramatists Play Service.
- NEW (added 10/5/21 based on additional recommendations): How the World Began by Catherine Trieschmann. 2013, Play, Drama. 2M 1 W. Susan, a science teacher from Manhattan, starts work in a small rural Kansas town that’s been ripped apart by a tornado. When one of her pupils – the damaged, articulate Micah – takes offence at an off-the-cuff remark about how life on Earth began, Susan is thrown into an ethical firestorm about science and faith that leads to her fearing for her safety. Rights: Concord Theatricals.
“The Theatre of the Invisible-Made-Visible: the notion that the stage is a place where the invisible can appear…” – Peter Brook, The Empty Space
Press Coverage of the Flannery List
“Flannery Short List of Faith-Related Plays Includes 2 by Guirgis, Hall”
American Theatre – Oct. 5, 2021
A list of 200 plays dealing with faith, religion, and/or spirituality also includes work by Lucas Hnath, Ins Choi, and Mark St. Germain.
“The Flannery List”
Radius Performing – Winter 2021-22
The magazine of the Religious Drama Society of Great Britain included the Flannery List as an article in their most recent issue.