Beyond Naturalism: A New Realism in American Theatre

Beyond Naturalism: A New Realism in American Theatre

Beyond Naturalism: A New Realism in American Theatre

Beyond Naturalism: A New Realism in American Theatre

Synopsis

"Demastes, in his interesting study of the work of David Rabe, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Charles Fuller, Beth Henley, and Marsha Norman, examines how these playwrights utilize the realist format to redirect perception of human life, how they cope with the consciously taken 'task of challenging old systems of thought from a base of new perspective.' The analyses of individual plays are preceded by a brief review of some earlier dramatic theories of realism revealing the roots and antecedents of the new forms. . . . Beyond Naturalism is a very useful and valuable contribution to drama and theatre studies." American Literature

Excerpt

Drama, like all literary and artistic genres, is in a constant state of flux, forever working to reflect human actions in the cultural milieu of its particular origin, attempting to present perspectives on "truth" in such a way that its culture can digest that "truth." Consequently, dramatic form must maintain a dynamic posture, surging forward to present new perspectives that will stretch the imaginations of playwright and playgoer alike.

This century alone has seen the genre move from the styles of Chekhov and Ibsen to the German expressionists to the French absurdists and the experimental forms of the 60s, continually reaching new limits of presentation and interpretation. Despite this century's dynamic activity, however, there remains a sense of stylistic and formal tyranny stemming from what Eric Bentley in 1946 called "the triumph of realism"(2). It is a description that accurately describes contemporary theatre even today. Not only are realist dramas of the past regularly and enthusiastically revived, but the best of current dramatic talents has turned to the form as well. The result has been a critical concern that today's theatre is dying and that there is a need of a "new fix" to revolutionize and revitalize it. Many once thought that the events and "happenings" of the 60s provided an answer, and many, Robert Wilson and Richard Foreman to name the most notable, are following that path today. Others look for a "little theatre" uprising as occurred in the early part of the century, even though it failed to defeat the "tyranny" of realism then and even though conditions seem no more hopeful today for the success of such an uprising.

It seems, however, that the basis of such hope for a "new fix" is at least partially manifest in a misconception of the realist form itself. The term "realism" is one that many claim to understand but few have been able to define, a fact that has played into the critical hands of its opponents and often hurts its advocates. Mary McCarthy, for . . .

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