Where would drama go
from here? How can you get more real than real? The answer, as American
expressionist playwright Elmer Rice claimed, was "... getting beneath
reality, displaying more than reality, replacing reality with something
The deep psychological forces that lie beneath drama, that create drama,
were examined in expressionism. A reaction to realism, expressionism
(1900s - 1920s) in the theatre involved presenting an inner psychological
reality (a subjective vision) as opposed to an objective representation
of society (the naturalist/realist tendency).
The conventions of theatre were thrown out. Plot was abolished. Structure
was crushed. Characterisation was slaughtered. A dreamlike or nightmarish
atmosphere was created. Playwrights attempted to create "nothing but a
representation of thought, feeling or fate." Dialogue was poetic and often
bordered on the nonsensical, whilst the development of electric lighting
allowed playwrights to create weird and whimsical lighting effects. Expressionism
was fundamentally concerned with expressing feelings, without worrying
about the reality that underlies them.
Expressionism was successful
mainly in Germany and Scandinavia, but American dramatists like Eugene
O'Neill, Thornton Wilder and Elmer Rice were also influenced by expressionism.
Even the work of dramatist Arthur Miller reflects this influence to a
degree, as is evident in the play, Death of a Salesman.