Beyond naturalism : a new realism in American theatre


Beyond naturalism : a new realism in American theatre

William W. Demastes

(Contributions in drama and theatre studies, no. 27)

Greenwood Press, 1988

  • : lib. bdg. : alk. paper

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Bibliography: p. [163]-170

Includes index



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 Demastes explores the work of a group of playwrights who have moved beyond the often-maligned naturalist approach to create what he terms the new realism in American theatre. Demastes argues that this new realism is separate and distinct from the narrow focus of naturalism and is the result of tapping into a growing tradition inherited from the experimental work of prior decades such as absurdist theatre and experimentation of the 1960s. The playwrights who most exemplify the new realism--David Rabe, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Charles Fuller, Beth Henley, and Marsha Norman--are examined in depth. Each has separately taken on the challenge to modify the forms of traditional realism to fit more modern visions of existence. In the process, they have broken from naturalism, infusing realism with fresh and contemporary perspectives of the world around them. Demastes shows that even though these playwrights' return to realism has won them larger audiences and greater accessibility, the break from naturalist logic has sometimes confused American critics and audiences--leading them to conclude such works to be bad drama. To uncover the various points of confusion, Demastes not only analyzes the playwrights' contributions but also examines the critical impressions of their productions to assess the reactions of a theatre-going public raised on naturalist assumptions and now asked to adapt to the new alterations confronting them. This two-pronged approach enables the reader to both explore the evolution of new realism and assess the degree to which it can legitimately be considered a new form of American theatre.


Introduction: Toward an Understanding of Realism in American Theatre Antecedents and Theoretical Roots of Dramatic Realism David Rabe's Assault on Rationalism and Naturalism David Mamet's Dis-Integrating Drama Sam Shepard's Realistic Drama New Voices Using New Realism: Fuller, Henley, and Norman Charles Fuller and A Soldier's Play Beth Henley and Crimes of the Heart Marsha Norman and 'night, Mother A Final Word Conclusion: Toward Re-establishing a Popular Theatre

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