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The Expressionist Movement in theater began in Europe, mainly in Germany at the start of the twentieth century, and migrated to the United States around 1920. Expressionism seeks to reveal the inner emotions of the characters and expose the hidden truths of life, often through distorting or exaggerating the scenery, costumes and lighting, as well as the dialog, the direction and stylized acting.  

Eugene O’Neill, in contrast to his Realism plays, also wrote several Expressionist plays and was a major proponent of the Expressionist Movement. O’Neill’s expressionist plays include; The Emperor Jones (1920), The Hairy Ape (1922), and The Great God Brown (1926), among others.

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, is another example of an Expressionist play.

Tony Kushner

Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness: Essays, a Play, Two Poems and a Prayer. New York: Theatre Communication Group, 1995.

This collection of Kushner’s essays and poems on topics related to tolerance, politics, war and other issues includes his play Slavs! Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness. The play is both fantastical and expressionistic drawing upon historical and political themes and dealing with the Perestroka movement, which contributed to the downfall of communism in the Soviet Union.

Angels in America: a Gay Fantasia on National Themes. London: Royal National Theatre: Nick Hern Books, 1992.

This expressionistic play about the AIDs epidemic during the Reagan presidential administration was produced in two parts. Kushner received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993 for this work.

Lanford Wilson

Burn This: a Play. New York: Hill and Wang, [1987].

Author’s autographed presentation copy, inscribed to Robert Wilson.

Balm in Gilead: and Other Plays. New York: Hill and Wang, 1965.

Author’s autographed presentation copy, inscribed to “Bob Wilson”.

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