Contemporary plays tackle “21st-century” issues and present them on stage.
By using plays, modern playwrights seek to express what it means to be alive at this time.
They cover topics from the uniqueness of ordinary lives to the wonder and horror of extraordinary events.
It does not matter, whether you read it in a book or see it on the stage.
You can learn more about life today and the craft of playwriting by experiencing these works.
19 Best Contemporary Comedy Plays Every Actor Should Know
1. Blithe Spirit – (Noel Coward)
Sharp, twisted, and hilarious, this delightful comedy play about ghosts and timeless romantic relationships first premiered in West End in 1941.
The play delighted audiences with its brilliant blend of farce and dark humor.
The comedy tells the story of novelist Charles Condomine who has recently married his second wife Ruth.
Trying to gather information for his new book, Charles invites the eccentric medium (clairvoyant) Madame Arcati to his house to perform a seance.
Highly skeptical of the notion of ghosts and clairvoyance, he is planning to write his book about exposing a fake medium.
The plan backfires when Madame Arcati summons the ghost of Charles’s deceased first wife Elvira who is only visible to him.
It turns out that Elvira is still in love with Charles and wants him back. She wastes no time in disrupting his marriage and the life of the happy couple descends into chaos and mayhem.
Blithe Spirit is one of Noel Coward’s most acclaimed plays. The play did extremely well on West End and Broadway with over 2000 performances.
It was later adopted into film and a musical.
Revived as recently as 2020, the play’s longevity and appeal is testament to Coward’s expert use of sharp & witty dialogue, well-structured scenes, and expansive vocabulary.
The play explores the difficulties of marriage, the pain of loss and death, and the complex nature of past relationships while still being funny and full of high spirits.
2. The Foreigner – (Larry Shue)
Put simply, The Foreigners is pure comedic pleasure. The play follows “Froggy” LeSuer and Charlie as they go on vacation to a fishing lodge in rural Georgia.
Froggy, a British demolition expert who often visits the lodge has brought his extremely shy friend Charlie with him this time.
Charlie is so shy that he is always on the verge of having a nervous breakdown at the thought of having a conversation with strangers.
He is also depressed because his wife may be dying.
When they arrive at the lodge Froggy tells the owner of the lodge and the other guests that Charlie is a foreigner and doesn’t understand a word of English, so that Charlie doesn’t have to worry about talking to strangers.
The other guests believing that Charlie won’t understand what they are saying speak freely in front of him divulging their secret schemes and private thoughts.
Soon Charlie overhears the devious plans of a reverend and his associate, found out that the reverend’s pretty girlfriend is pregnant, and many other damaging revelations.
In the meantime, Charlie pretends to learn English from one of the guests while speaking his ‘native” language which sounds vaguely Russian.
Packed with mischief and misunderstanding the comedy builds up to an incredibly funny climax where the bad guys fail miserably and Charlie and Froggy emerge victorious.
The Foreigner has won various awards including two Obie Awards, and two Outer Critics Circle Awards. Although he was a talented playwright, Larry Shue was first and foremost an actor.
He often played roles in his own plays as well as others and admitted that he didn’t enjoy the writing process.
He wrote most of the parts in his plays the way he would like to play them. Shy, talented, eccentric, and funny Shue’s plays often provide an insight into his life.
3. Noises Off – (Michael Frayn)
Noises Off is hands down one of the best farces of all time.
Every time it’s performed the play packs a dangerous amount of laughter that has audiences giggling nonstop, from beginning to end.
The comedy is simply a masterpiece of silliness. There is no message or deep back story, but just a wildly reckless and fun story.
Noises Off is a play about a highly dysfunctional theatre company that is performing the comedy “Nothing On”.
During Act 1, the actors of Nothing On are at dress rehearsal preparing for their performance.
It becomes quite apparent, however, that the crew is anything but ready. The play starts and chaos promptly ensues.
Dotty Otley keeps forgetting where to pick up and leave her props, doors on the set don’t work as they should, one of the actors with a drinking problem keeps getting lost, and the director at the ends of his wit resorts to sarcasm as his chief method of communication.
By the third act, things keep deteriorating.
The actors of ‘Nothing On” are barely holding it together as they fight with each other, keep missing their lines and cues, and some even refuse to show up for their parts.
The play ends with the curtains dropping just as “Nothing On” completely dissolves into disaster.
While it’s such an entertaining script, Noises Off is also a challenging play to pull off for set designers, directors, and actors.
4. Rumors – (Neil Simon)
Rumors is a play about a 10-year anniversary party where four couples visit the home of Charlie, the deputy mayor of New York.
Upon arrival, they find that the mayor has mysteriously shot himself and his wife is nowhere to be found.
Hilarity unfolds as Ken (Charlie’s lawyer) and Chris (Charlie’s wife) try to hide the incident from the police, media, and the other guests.
Set in the 1980s, the comedy delivers a full night of laughter through the mistaken identities, cover-ups, and all sorts of ridiculous situations that arise in the story.
Although the play can be a bit demanding for actors, it has an excellent set of characters that give actors the chance to display their comedic chops.
The character Ken Gorman offers actors an amazing opportunity to use gestures, facial expressions, and physical comedy that leaves audiences in stitches.
On the other hand, Claire Ganz is perfect for actresses who can deliver line after line of deadpan humor with a straight face.
Lenny Gantz is another character that gives actors plenty of physical humor to play as well as a fantastic and humorous comedic monologue in the second act.
Rumors was playwright Neil Simon’s first farce which he wrote as a way of dealing with some difficult times he was going through.
It first premiered on Broadway in 1988.
5. One Man, Two Guvnors (Richard Bean)
One Man, Two Guvnors is Richard Bean’s adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s One Man, Two Servants.
It is a superbly written comedy that has launched the careers of actors like James Corden.
Bean does a great job in keeping the structure of Goldoni’s play while infusing it with good old British verbal and physical humor.
Set in 1963, One Man, Two Guvnors tells the story of Francis Henshall.
Henshall is a failed skiffle player who finds himself working for a gangster and an upper-class twit at the same time.
The character of Francis is a goldmine of comedic moments and laughter in the play.
In addition to the hilarious situational comedy, Francis’s unrelenting hunger which drives his actions is simply hilarious.
In fact, at one point in the play, when asked whether he prefers to eat or make love, he replies “Tough one that, innit” after much deliberation and face scrunching.
The show delivers a well-balanced combination of visual and verbal comedy that is uproariously funny.
First shown at the National Theater in 2011, One Man, Guvnors has toured all over the world with productions in the U.S, Hong Kong, and Australia.
The play won several Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards in 2012, most of which went to James Corden.
6. Arsenic And Old Lace – (Joseph Kesselring)
A perfect blend of dark humor and screwball comedy, Arsenic & Old Lace is a riotous black comedy about the homicidal and maniacal Brewster family.
The comedy is playwright Joseph Kesselring’s most successful play.
The play opened on Broadway in 1941 and went on to have an amazing run of over 1,000 performances on both Broadway and West End.
The play was adapted into a movie of the same name in 1944 starring Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, and Jean Adair among others.
Mortimer Brewster is a drama critic who has just got engaged. He goes to his family’s house to inform his family of the good news.
However, he discovers a corpse in the living room and rushes to warn his elderly aunts Abby and Martha before they see the corpse themselves.
He soon finds out that his dear aunts who frequently entertain guests and are adored by their neighbors have been killing lonely old men for years.
Mortimer’s crack-pot brother Teddy, who believes he is Theodore Rosevelt has been unwittingly helping his aunts burry their corpses, thinking that he is burying yellow fever victims in the Panama canal.
To make matters worse Mortimer’s other brother Jonathan arrives at the family house.
He is a psycho killer who has had several plastic surgeries to hide his identity from the police. His latest face is that of Boris Karloff.
Arsenic and Old Lace is a classic black comedy that is wacky, macabre, hilarious, and not believable for a second.
7. You Can’t Take It With You – (George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart)
Featuring a tax-evading Grandpa, a candy maker with delusions of being a ballerina, a prolific playwright who never finishes her plays, and an assortment of other ridiculously fascinating characters, the dysfunctional Sycamore family is the star of this play.
The play centers around the romance of Alice Sycamore and Tony Kirby.
Alice is the only normal person in the Sycamore family who has a real job at a Wall Street Firm. Tony is the son of the president of the Wall Street firm where Alice works.
Alice invites her fiancee and his parents for dinner at her family’s house.
Though she loves her family, she is embarrassed by their eccentricity and gives strict instructions for her family members to act as normal as possible on the night of the dinner.
Everything goes wrong however when Tony forgets the date of the dinner and shows up with his straight-laced parents a day early at the Sycamore house.
They find the Sycamores at their eccentric best, and the play unleashes non-stop laughter from this point onward.
You Can’t Take It With You is one of a few comedies that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1936. The play was adapted into a film a year later and won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Kaufman and Hart drew on the different aspects of their own families to create the Sycamore family.
This play needs capable actors who can resist going for easy laughs and instead allow their characters to develop and draw the laughter from the audience.
8. The 39 Steps (Patrick Barlow)
Patrick Barlow’s 2005 adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock movie transforms the classic espionage thriller into a hysterically funny spoof performed by only 4 actors.
The 39 Steps is about Richard Hannay, an average Englishman who is a little bored with life.
He decides to go to the theater one night and becomes unwittingly involved in a whole spy story.
The 39 steps goes back to the basics. Nothing that they use is high tech and that’s really part of the charm.
They’re using everyday items and the characters to create this whole world and they bring you into the story with them.
At one point in the play, the actors are sitting on two boxes and yet they transport you into the world of a 1930s steam locomotive. It’s just so clever and well done.
The play is slapstick in some ways and in some ways it’s like watching the 3 stooges. It’s packed with a lot of action, a lot of silliness, some melodrama, and just pure fun.
The show is quite refreshing because, unlike big shows that use lots of props and technical aspects to make the show work, this show relies on very minimal props, set, and the acting skills of the 4 actors to tell the story.
If you don’t know Hitchcock or you don’t like his work you can watch the show and just get a good laugh out of it.
It stands on its own. However, if you are a Hitchcock fan, you are in for a treat.
There are so many subtle references to all the Hitchcock movies and it’s just so much fun if you can recognize the allusions.
The Patrick Barlow adaptation of The 39 Steps premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2005.
The play moved to London’s West end the next year, where it stayed for 9 years until it was closed in 2015.
It’s the 5th longest-running play in the West End.
9. Run For Your Wife – (Ray Cooney)
Run For Your Wife is about a man who just couldn’t say no and married two women who don’t know about each other.
We meet him at a point in the play where his whole life is beginning to unfold.
He has this very tight schedule that he’s worked out for himself to make sure that these two worlds don’t collide.
Then he gets into a little accident while driving his taxi and the police get involved. That gets him into a bit of trouble and that’s where we start.
Everything is crumbling around him as he’s desperately trying to keep it all together but it’s just all coming apart.
It’s like the damn is coming apart with holes popping up everywhere. He keeps trying to keep things in place but the more that happens the more frantic he gets.
At a basic level, Run For Your Wife is a farce and it’s fun, but the play also calls into question what it means to really be in love with someone and what if you fall in love twice.
What happens then?
It’s one of the most famous British farces. Written in the 80s, this is one of Ray Cooney’s masterpieces.
It’s very classic and ran for 9 years in its first incarnation in various theaters in London.
10. God Of Carnage – (Yasmina Reza)
God of Carnage was first presented in 2007 in Zurich in German. It won the Viennese Theater Award for best German language play.
All the action takes place in one set and the play is very physical with a lot of action.
The opening scene is 2 couples that have gotten together and they are giggling and talking about very mundane things.
The level of emotion in the play starts out very sedately then starts rising dramatically and then they pull themselves back down.
They get the calm conversation going and then the tension starts to mount again and they get just a little wackier and a little angrier.
The two couples are discussing an incident that happened between their two sons at school on the playground.
At first, the couples are aligned with each other, mom and dad with the children and then all of a sudden they turn on each other and they are aligned with the other couple.
The conflict and the rise and fall of emotion is really fun to watch.
The couple that is hosting the get-together starts out sweet, innocent, and ever so polite and dignified but before long the blush starts coming off the roses.
The true characters come out.
It’s a commentary on middle-class hypocrisy and middle-class phoniness and the underlying savagery when people are defending their children.
People can become closer to animals defending their young.
God of Carnage has enjoyed successful productions all over the world including France, Puerto Rico, Germany, Chile, Serbia, U.A.E, Spain, Australia, Ireland, U.K, and the U.S among others.
The play has also won the Olivier and Tony Awards and was adapted to film in 2011.
11. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard)
Tom Stoppard is easily one of the great modern playwrights.
He uses clever wit, visual humor, and physical farce to transform very serious subject matters into comedy.
In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Stoppard retells the story of Hamlet from the point of view of his two childhood friends.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, both minor characters in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet are thrust into the limelight in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
The play narrates the story of these characters as they kind of realize that the only reason they exist is to function as a plot device in a play.
Stoppard uses his signature fast-paced absurdist monologues and rapid-fire interrogations to let the two protagonists explore philosophical matters like death, existence, and free will.
Meanwhile, the characters’ use of well-timed raised eyebrows and comedic gestures provide plenty of laughter.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is Tom Stoppard’s best-known and most-produced play and brought him international recognition in 1967.
The play won four Tony Awards as well as a New York Dram Critics’ Circle Award in 1968.
It has also been adapted into a film and several radio plays.
12. Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike – (Christopher Durang)
Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike is a collision course between two siblings, Vanya and Sonia who are leading a very quiet life in Pennsylvania, and their sister Masha who is a famous movie star.
The Chekov-inspired play is both poignant and absolutely hilarious as it tells the story of three siblings attempting to navigate middle age while battling regrets of having lived an unfulfilled life.
Vanya and Sonia are middle-aged siblings who live in the family house in Bucks County Pennsylvania.
Neither of them has a job and it’s their movie star sister Masha who owns the house and pays the bills.
Vanya and Sonia spend their days simply drifting through life reminiscing about lost chances and debating over orchard trees.
Their life is turned upside down when Masha comes to visit them with her very handsome and very young boy-toy Spike in tow and announces she is going to sell the family house.
It’s an incredibly funny play that has a lot of heart and is very odd at the same time, which is how you know it was written by Christopher Durang.
There is a great parallel between Durang’s play and the plays of Chekov, in that, when they are done right they are raucously funny.
Yet, underneath all the humor, there is something else that is going on that teaches or reminds you something about life and the passage of time.
13. The Play That Goes Wrong – (Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields)
Following in the traditions of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, The Play That Goes Wrong is a riotous comedy about theatrical blunders.
The hopelessly untalented troupe of actors (The Cornely Polytechnic Drama Society) are performing the murder mystery show The Murder At Haversham Manor.
As you can probably tell from the title the play proceeds to go wrong in every way imaginable.
While the play uses a lot of slapstick it’s also a tightly written script that never pulls on the same joke for too long.
As the play proceeds well-orchestrated and perfectly timed disasters befall the actors.
The set falls apart, cast members are accidentally knocked unconscious, some forget their lines, and on and on until the end of the show.
The play premiered in 2012 at the Old Red Lion Theater in London and has toured successfully in the U.K, U.S, and Australia.
It won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2015. In 2019 the play was adapted into the TV series The Goes Wrong Show.
14. The Man Who Came To Dinner (George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart)
George Kaufman and Moss Hart wrote this play for their friend Alexander Woolcott after whom the main character Sheridan Whiteside is modeled.
They came up with the idea after Woolcott showed up unannounced at Hart’s House and takes over the house.
He commandeers Hart’s bedroom, demands that the heat be turned off, and orders a malted with a chocolate cake.
As he leaves in the morning he loudly berates the household staff for being dishonest and incompetent before commenting that he had just spent one of the most awful nights of his life.
As Hart tells Kaufman about this bizarre and hilarious incident he jokingly remarks that Woolcott was lucky he didn’t break his leg and got stuck at the Hart House.
And that’s how the hilarious comedy “The Man Who Came To Dinner” came to be.
The play first opened to audiences in 1939 at the Music Box Theater in New York where it ran for 739 performances.
It was revived a few times on Broadway and was also adapted into a movie and radio play.
15. The Lieutenant Of Inishmore – (Martin Mcdonagh)
Just the premise of this play is hilarious. Padraic, the deranged leader of an IRA (Irish National Liberation Army) splinter group discovers that his beloved cat Thomas has been killed.
Padraic is an Irish terrorist in the times of the troubles. But he is too violent and unpredictable even for the IRA.
He does love his cat, however, and when the love of his life is killed Padraic wants vengeance.
McDonagh brilliantly blends superb dialogue, blood-curdling violence, and indescribable hilarity in The Lieutenant Of Inishmore.
It’s an excellent satire on terrorists and how their distorted idealism in which violence is the primary solution to all problems, leads to a blind pursuit of their goals at the expense of morality and decent human behavior.
Audiences who have seen the show frequently describe the show as awesome, ballsy, cool, bloody, invigorating, nauseating, surreal, thrilling, colorful, painful, and fun.
First produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2001, The Lieutenant Of Inishmore has enjoyed performances in Britain, the U.S, Peru, and Australia.
The play has won the Lucille Lortel Obie, Olivier, and Critics’ Circle Awards.
16. Lend Me A Tenor – (Ken Ludwig)
Lend me a Tenor is a seriously funny screwball comedy about Henry Saunders, the manager of Cleveland Grand Opera Company, who decides to bring in a star tenor for his Gala Fundraiser.
The star is Tito Merelli, a world-famous Italian opera tenor. Saunders is extremely stressed out about everything running smoothly and appoints his nervous assistant Max to watch over Tito’s every move.
Tito finally arrives at his hotel suite accompanied by his short-tempered wife Maria. At the hotel Maria finds Maggie hiding in the closet trying to get Tito’s autograph.
Because Tito is known for flirting with women, Maria assumes Maggie is Tito’s lover and leaves the hotel after writing him a note.
Tito finds Maria’s note and thinking that she has left him tries to kill himself. Max finds the distraught Tito and offers him a drink mixed with tranquilizers to help him calm down.
Somehow Tito ends up taking double the dose of tranquilizers Max gave him.
Tito decides to take a nap before the show and lies down on his bed. Later on, Max comes by to wake Tito but he is unable to do so.
Seeing Maria’s note and an empty medicine bottle he quickly concludes that Tito is dead.
Upon hearing this news Saunders is furious. Rather than cancel the show he comes up with a plan to hide Tito’s death and save the show.
The play provides a relentless amount of laughter through a series of events including slamming doors, mistaken identities, ridiculous costumes, secret sex romps, and presumed death.
Lend Me A Tenor was first shown at West End in 1986 and was produced on Broadway in 1989.
The play has won 3 Tony and 4 Drama Desk Awards. It has also been translated into 16 languages and produced in 25 countries.
17. Boeing Boeing – (Marc Camoletti)
The story is about Bernard, a french playboy who lives in a Paris apartment.
His old friend whom he hasn’t seen in years drops in on him unexpectedly only to find that Bernard has three girlfriends at the same time who are all flight attendants.
Bernard’s girlfriends are hostesses at different airlines and he has been able to juggle these relationships without any of his girlfriends finding out because of his detailed knowledge of their flight schedules.
He thought he had a good thing going until one day, all three women show up at the same time at his apartment and chaos ensues.
The play has a lot of physical humor with the men dancing around the stage and the women doing silly things.
Boeing Boeing which was written by French playwright Marc Camoletti, first premiered at the Apollo Theater in London in 1962.
It then moved to the Duchess Theater where it enjoyed a record-breaking 7-year run.
The play is also listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most performed French play throughout the world.
While some aspects of the play are now dated the play still delivers a full evening of laughter and mirth.
18. A Flea In Her Ear – (Adaptation By David Ives)
David Ives’s 2006 adaptation of Georges Feydeau’s A Flea In Her Ear is delightful and hilarious.
He maintains the impeccable structure and complex plot of the original play while communicating Feydeaus’ playful use of language to an English-speaking audience.
If you are looking for a play that is timely and speaks to you on so many levels this is not it! A flea in her ear is built for laughter and delivers pure joy and unabashed fun.
When her husband Victor suddenly stops being sexually active, Raymonde Chandebise suspects that he is secretly having an affair.
Hoping to catch him in the act she gets her friend Lucienne to write an anonymous love letter inviting him to a rendezvous at the Frisky Puss Hotel.
Victor gets the letter and believing that it must be for his playboy coworker Tournel, sends him to the Frisky Puss Hotel in his place.
Meanwhile, Lucienne’s jealous Spanish husband finds the letter and recognizing his wife’s writing storms off to the Frisky Puss with his guns determined to catch her redhanded.
Soon all the characters of the play end up at the hotel, each pursuing their own goal.
Misleading situations, mixed identities, and vengeful motives drive the play into a chaotic and action-packed climax before culminating in an improbable resolution at the Chandeboise home.
Ive’s adaptation first premiered at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and won the 2006 Jefferson Award for best adaptation.
19. Harvey – (Mary Chase)
Mary Chase wrote this Pulitzer-winning comedy in 1944 to cheer people up during the war.
The play revolves around Elwood P. Dowd, an eccentric man, and his best friend Harvey who is a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit.
When Elwood starts introducing Harvey to everyone he meets around town, his sister Veta who is embarrassed by his antics decides to send him to a sanitarium.
A slip-up happens at the sanitarium however, and Veta gets committed instead of Elwood.
Soon the truth comes out and a frantic search for Elwood and Harvey begins in earnest. Elwood comes to the sanitorium on his own looking for his six-foot rabbit.
The play ends with Veta realizing that she loves her brother and accepts him as he is, including the six-foot rabbit Harvey.
Harvey was first shown on Broadway in 1944 where it run for 1,775 performances.
The play has also been revived numerous times since then.