in the Social Influence of Drama
Business is not only the business of America—as President Coolidge announced—but also of American drama. There are two major ways in which this economic focus has been reflected on the stage: an overwhelming number of instantly forgettable comedies written for entertainment, and a small but serious number of plays that analyze society in a spirit of protest or reform. If the popular Broadway fare of the twenties and thirties is any guide, the drama of social criticism had little direct effect on the public, who even in the Depression flocked to see their dreams come true in plays where the heroes gained heiresses or riches by guile or good fortune, and any attack on the business world was conservative, attempting to reestablish the "old-fashioned" values that everyone respects as long as they do not have to live by them. Using the mainstream of Broadway as a barometer to measure the attitudes of the public, the American myth of success can be shown to have prospered in spite of events, which even such critically acclaimed plays as Waiting for Lefty or The Adding Machine had little wide influence.
The question as to whether drama can change society is an old one, and the traditional answer is no. Playwrights "but echo back the public voice" [says Samuel Johnson] like "lay preachers, peddling the ideas of their time in a popular form" ( Strindberg). Yet, looking at the fate of the American dream and the Protestant work ethic, it can be demonstrated that it is indeed possible for the stage to do more than passively mirror established social views. As a corollary, it can be suggested that____________________