In the mid- 1980s, I was twice given the opportunity to review theatre for a New Jersey newspaper. Interested in contemporary theatre ever since my graduate-school days in English at New York University, when I discovered Off-Off-Broadway and the works of such European innovators as Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, Bertolt Brecht and Jean Genet, I welcomed each opportunity despite not having taught the subject. I always taught other courses, and twentieth-century drama in any English department of which I was a member was thought of as modern, not contemporary, which meant plays by Shaw, Ibsen, Chekhov, and other playwrights born in the nineteenth century. Although on the East and West coasts one could see plays by Maria Irene Fornes and Sam Shepard, for example, inside academe their names were known only to those who went to the theatre and only to avant-garde or experimental, as opposed to commercial, theatre.
As it turned out, not having taught the subject was an advantage. With the exception of O'Neill, I had not written on any American playwrights, and I had been able to maintain interest by never being far from New York City and other theatre centers. I was teaching at the University of Rhode Island, for instance, when the Trinity Repertory Company was establishing itself in Providence. By not having taught the subject, I did not seek confirmation for theories I entertained but took the assignments because I enjoyed going to the theatre.
Gradually I became aware of the contemporary American theatre as a distinct experience, the creation of which is the subject of this book.
The artists creating the experience are culturally more diverse than the artists of the first half of the twentieth century. I am not suggesting that the earlier period was culturally monolithic, but with the exception of Lillian Hellman, the principal American playwrights were white males. Karen Finley--a discussion of whose work opens this book--is a woman who performs, not acts in, her original theatre pieces, not plays, that attack the exclusive culture whose sole deity is "one male god." Now consider these names, so different from Arthur Miller, Clifford Odets, William Inge, Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee