Overview (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
If the greatest challenge of theater has been to make illusion seem real, the greatest challenge of American theater has been to create theater that is in kind or degree peculiarly American. Among those twentieth century American playwrights who successfully met this challenge are Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, who addressed something peculiarly American in their works; Tennessee Williams and Horton Foote, who found in one of the country’s regions something that spoke to its national character; and many others who found in the shortcomings of America’s national myths something telling in its national experience. These national myths came into question particularly during the 1990’s as matters of race, gender, and sexual preference were brought into particularly high relief.
Perhaps five aspects of American theater were particularly notable during the 1990’s: First, the staying power of voices in American theater that had first been heard twenty-five or even fifty years before; second, the vitality and courage with which American theater led the way in exploring the degree to which one’s sexual preferences defined—for better or worse—one’s place in the American experience; third, the ever-increasing importance of women playwrights on the American stage; fourth, the continued decline of racial and ethnic barriers; and fifth, the depth and breadth of young authorial talent that seemed to be emerging, and emerging with aplomb.