William Motter Inge, born in Independence in 1913, is the preeminent playwright in the state, the only Kansan to win a Pulitzer Prize in drama. His Four Plays remains in print in a Grove edition, and includes the blockbusters of the 1950s—Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), Picnic (1953), Bus Stop (1955) and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1957). Along with Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, Inge defined Broadway theatre until the negative reviews and quick closing of A Loss of Roses (1959). After that, Inge left New York for California, where he won an Oscar for best original screenplay for Splendor in the Grass (1961), which might also be considered part of Kansas’ psychiatric literature. Inge wrote two novels, Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1970) and My Son is A Splendid Driver (1971). He committed suicide in 1973, at the age of 60. Although his work has fallen out of favor, he captured the American middle west of the 1920s with accuracy and sympathy and with a true sense of voice. His reputation and career are honored in Kansas with an annual William Inge Theatre Festival, now under the auspices of the William Inge Center, directed by Peter Ellenstein, located in Independence in Inge’s boyhood home. See: http://www.ingecenter.org/ingecenter.html
For the 25th Anniversary of the Inge Theatre Festival, the Inge Center commissioned a play about the life of William Inge. Touched (2006), by Topeka playwright Marcia Cebulska (b. 1944), was performed in Independence and at Washburn University of Topeka. Cebulska was also commissioned for the celebration of the Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary. Now Let Me Fly (2004) was the centerpiece of events that included the opening of the National Park Service Brown v. Board site in Topeka.
Before Inge, Kirke Mechem (1889-1985) wrote plays, among them John Brown(1939). His son, Kirke Mechem (b. 1925), is a composer whose opera John Brown(2008) also treats the famous abolitionist.
Allen Crafton (1890-c. 1980), long-time theatre professor at the University of Kansas wrote poetry and plays and novels, as well as a technical guide, The Complete Acted Play from Script to Final Curtain (1946).
William Gibson (see psychiatric literature) began his Two for the Seesaw (1962) while in Topeka.
Long-time Topeka playwright Phil Grecian (b. 1948) wrote a dramatic version of Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps (1996) to commemorate that book’s 100th anniversary.
Other recent playwrights include Ric Averill (b. 1950), also a screenwriter, who has written numerous children’s theatre, especially for his own Lawrence company, The Seem-to-Be Players. Alex and the Shrink World (1998) and Riding the Pine (in production as a film) are two of his works.
Junction City native Kevin Willmott (b. 1958), now on the faculty of the University of Kansas, is both playwright and filmmaker. His work includes Ninth Street (1999), about the demise of the African-American business district that served Junction City and Fort Riley for years. CSA (2003) is a “mock-umentary” that covers the Confederate States of America, assuming that the South won the Civil War.
Also on the faculty of the University of Kansas, Paul Stephen Lim (b. 1944) runs the English Alternative Theatre. His own Conpersonas (1976) was performed at the Kennedy Center, and his Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris 1985) used Harris’ My Life and Loves, part of which is set in Lawrence.
Originally from Pomona, James Still (b. 1969) graduated from the University of Kansas and has written numerous plays. His Amber Waves (1999) treats a year in the life of a Kansas farm family.
Darren Canady (b. 1982) graduated from Topeka High School. When he was a graduate student at New York University, his False Creeds (2007) won the third annual Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.