Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition

Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition

Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition

Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition

Synopsis

Any review of 20th-century American theatre invariably leads to the term realism. Yet despite the strong tradition of theatrical realism on the American stage, the term is frequently misidentified, and the practices to which it refers are often attacked as monolithically tyrannical, restricting the potential of the American national theatre. This book reconsiders realism on the American stage by addressing the great variety and richness of the plays that form the American theatre canon. By reconsidering the form and revisiting many of the plays that contributed to the realist tradition, the authors provide the opportunity to apprise strengths often overlooked by previous critics. The volume traces the development of American dramatic realism from James A. Herne, the "American Ibsen," to currently active contemporaries such as Sam Shepard, David Mamet, and Marsha Norman. This frank assessment, in sixteen original essays, reopens a critical dialog too long closed. Essays include:American Dramatic Realisms, Viable Frames of Thought The Struggle for the Real--Interpretive Conu00a7ict, Dramatic Method, and the Paradox of Realism The Legacy of James A. Herne: American Realities and Realisms Whose Realism? Rachel Crothers's Power Struggle in the American Theatre The Provincetown Players' Experiments with Realism Servant of Three Masters: Realism, Idealism, and "Hokum" in American High Comedy

Excerpt

The tyranny of realism. This phrase summarizes the impression expressed in numerous critical analyses of twentieth-century American drama. It is true that since the beginning of the twentieth century, realism has been the dominant mode of theatrical expression. While it is also true that America has produced the occasional nonrealist success--The Adding Machine, Our Town, Camino Real, and Angels in America--even such playwrights as Eugene O'Neill and Sam Shepard, who resisted the call to realism and experimented with other forms, returned to this form if for no other reason than that American audiences have been more willing to accept realist drama than any other form. Their careers demonstrate a cultural feedback loop wherein dramatists write realist plays for American audiences, and audiences in turn come to expect realism of authors. Why American audiences hunger for realism when other national theatres have opened themselves to other forms is a difficult question, but perhaps dispelling several myths about the form will suggest why Americans prefer this much-criticized but nevertheless popular form.

The charge that realism is a tyrant stems from the conclusion that realism is a structurally unambitious, homogeneous, tunnel-visioned form, its every product churning out the same fundamental message and denying creation of a more open, pluralistic theatre. From all that has been written about realism in the theatre, and based on the wide- spread use of the term, one would assume the term itself had been sufficiently identified, its conditions and parameters established, and its opposites marked. But the fact of the matter is, this term has a . . .

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